Family Resource Center offers support for neurodivergent children, families

Social connections grow with events and volunteer efforts

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Nora Vedder

As three elementary school students play a card game, family support specialists Shannon Tibbits and Colleen Kugler help the play move forward. The Family Resource Center holds weekly “Game On!” events every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., where neurodivergent children can practice social skills by playing games with peers. “I love all the positivity that this place possesses — the joy, the support and the encouragement that people receive when they’re here,” Tibbits said. “It’s very inspiring.”

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Laughter fills the main room of the Family Resource Center as family support specialist Colleen Kugler opens the door to let in families for the “Game On” event. Children rush to play games with peers, most of whom they connected with through attending the event every Wednesday.

In late 2021, the school district’s Family Resource Center held its grand opening and started providing resources for families of people who are neurodivergent. Neurodivergence is a non-medical term that describes people whose brains develop or work differently for various reasons. This means the person has different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically. The center holds several opportunities for children to socialize, one being “Game On,” which is a time for children of any age to play games – and learn how to connect better with peers.

“The best part (of the program) is things like this – with ‘Game On!’ – when the kids leave, and they’re so excited, and the parents tell us that they can’t wait to get here each week,” Kugler said. “But also, when parents come in, they’re upset and need support, and they leave feeling better.”

Parents can leave after dropping their kids off at the center for the event, or they can choose to stay and spend time in the back quiet room or in the “Joy Garden” outside.

According to Kugler, the goal of these events is to encourage kids to step out of their comfort zones, as socialization can sometimes be difficult for neurodivergent people.

Behind the Family Resource Center is the “Joy Garden,” put in place as an Eagle project by junior Landon Davis. The joy garden is open to any visitor of the center, with a water fountain and tables to sit at. Rocks painted at the grand opening of the center are also featured throughout the garden. (Nora Vedder)

“I love working with the kids, but I (especially) love those moments that you have a breakthrough – like tonight, where we had a little kid finally break away from his sister, and go actually interact with another friend in the group,” family support specialist Shannon Tibbits said. “And, so those are huge milestones that they’re experiencing here. It’s like a safe place of love and support, and they feel comfortable making those steps.”

Just behind the main room of the Family Resource Center is a quiet room where parents can wait for their children to finish their time at Family Resource Center events. Parents may have time to talk to other parents that could be in similar situations as them or are able to read the resources provided at the center. Smaller parent workshops are occasionally held in this room as well. (Nora Vedder)

Another event the center holds is the “Squad,” a group of neurodivergent high schoolers meeting monthly to discuss a variety of topics and how to overcome certain challenges, along with activities to accompany the discussion. One activity the group participated in was a “picky-eater bingo.”

“They had to try different foods and were very challenged to try all kinds of different foods,” Kugler said. “It was fun to see how they wanted to do it so bad to fill their bingo board, but they had to put the stuff in their mouth, and one of the students was gagging, but they wanted to do it really bad. So, I was very proud of them for that.”

Along with group meetings for children, the center holds support groups and has a library

Filling a bookshelf in the Family Resource Center’s library, are the resource binders filled with information about a variety of topics pertaining to neurodiversity. Binders have five copies of visuals and articles about each topic. “Most of the parents have a child or children with special needs and may be struggling with a specific issue at home or in the community,” receptionist Kate Crawford said. “They are so thankful and can’t believe there is a place like this where they can find help and support. Not all school districts have a resource center like this.” (Nora Vedder)

of resources for parents – or anyone – to learn more about different aspects of neurodiversity, such as autism, ADHD, down syndrome, and many other topics. Different sections have a variety of books or other materials. A shelf of resource binders is also included. It holds binders full of articles about a variety of specific topics.

“When (parents) come in, they usually say what they’re struggling with at home,” Kugler said. “So let’s say they’re struggling because their child has anxiety. Then the volunteers will say, ‘oh, we have a binder all about anxiety,’ and the volunteers will tell them to go through and pull out any articles they want. And there are five copies of everything in each binder. So they get to keep it, and they get to take it home.”

Just past the entrance to the Resource Center, is the “Lending Library” with various sections with books on different aspects of neurodivergence. The library has books, resources and materials that can be checked out for up to two weeks at a time. “When (parents) come in, they usually say what they’re struggling with at home,” Colleen Kugler said. “So let’s say they’re struggling because their child has anxiety. The volunteers will say ‘here’s the section on anxiety and you can borrow these books for two weeks. ‘ They’ll help them to go through each section.” (Nora Vedder)

The center is open at 410 East First Street every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday that the district is open, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. for residents to come in and check out resources.

My role at the Family Resource Center is to greet all visitors and check them in as well as answer phones and provide support for all the staff,” receptionist Kate Crawford said. “Since I am their first point of contact, I set the tone and make or break their first impression of our office, so it’s important to me to be cheerful and friendly and to make them feel welcome.”

Volunteers during the day are typically adults, however, the center has a variety of events taking place after school hours where a variety of ages are able to volunteer.

“We’re always looking for great volunteers and ‘Game On’ is a great place to volunteer weekly, but we also have activities like our Fall Festival, our Joyful Dinner or our teen squad,” Tibbits said. “If you want to volunteer, just come. We will take you – and your kindness – and we’ll put you to work and you’ll make lots of friends in the process.”

Being new to Texas, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that we have the Family Resource Center, an amazing resource, available to us, and I’m thrilled to be volunteering weekly. Through the center’s lectures, support groups and volunteering, I have made numerous good friends that understand the struggles and joy of raising a special needs child. The women running the center are some of the best people you could meet, that truly want to help however possible.”

— volunteer Suzanne Gaffney-Vedder

In addition to the many opportunities of socialization with the variety of events the center has, Kugler and Tibbits continue to plan new events for the future to educate others, such as the “Challenge Accepted” event planned for early March.

“Everybody’s going to come through, and kids are going to have stations where they talk about their different life challenges. So there’ll be a station for autism, a station for down syndrome, a station for anxiety, a station for cerebral palsy, a station for using a wheelchair or a communication device, all these different stations,” Kugler said. “And so everybody that comes in will stop at each station to learn about that person and what their different life challenges are, so they can have a better understanding of it and more empathy for others, but also to be proud of people for overcoming their challenges.”

According to its website, the mission of the Family Resource Center is to not only provide families with information about neurodiversity but to provide a sense of hope and connections. Whether it is their events for kids or support groups for adults, the center aims to educate and support all.

“When we know that people leave here feeling better than when they came in,” Kugler said. “That is everything.”