Days In the Life of a P2P Coordinator: Tracie Hoppis, Yakima P2P

Published Jan. 18, 2012

I can still remember the day when we became a “special family”.  It began as we drove down the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, on our way to visit a specialist in Portland.  Our eleven month old son, Andy, slept peacefully in the back seat as my husband and I talked quietly about the vibrant colors and graceful motion of the wind surfers on the white-capped Columbia water.
Over the past several months, we had become increasingly concerned that Andy was not reaching his “developmental milestones”.  Our pediatrician reassured us that there was nothing to worry about, that, “Children are unique in their development.  Andy is just a late-bloomer.”  But by eleven months of age, Andy showed some significant delays.  With a “just in case” attitude, our pediatrician referred us to a neurologist in Portland.

“I believe we need to consider Cerebral Palsy and pursue other testing,” began the neurologist.  Then he continued to talk with a near-foreign language, presuming we heard and understood.  We had not.  Two words lay heavy in our heads as we quickly and painfully realized that Cerebral Palsy was the “just in case”.  We left the office with a recommendation for further testing, a pamphlet on Cerebral Palsy, and a child who would be forever affected by this diagnosis.

That day we were pulled into a “special needs whirlpool”: new people; new places, tests and options that were frightening and overwhelming.  The whirlpool often took us to the darkest of depths, and I remember the tremendous need I had to talk with another parent who knew what I was feeling.  I needed someone who had also visited these depths, someone who could say, “I know, I understand, I remember, and it will get better.”

The pull of this deep, dark whirlpool is something with which all parents of children with special needs understands, and that is why there is the Parent to Parent program.  Parent to Parent offers individualized support from fellow parents who have already entered the whirlpool.  Called “Helping Parents”, these volunteers are neither counselors nor therapists.  Rather, they are caring individuals who have been trained to provide emotional support for parents just entering the special needs world.  They have been sucked into the whirlpool and survived.
In the small community where I lived when Andy was just a baby, there was no Parent to Parent program.  Had there been, I know they would have helped my husband and me sort out our feelings and find our footing again. 
We had to do it alone, but you don’t.