Group supports special families

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As a working mother with three special-needs children, Suman Marks-Johnson values organizations such as the Family Connection of South Carolina.

"It's a great opportunity to get to know other people who are going through similar situations," Mrs. Marks-Johnson said.

Parents of special-needs children began Family Connection in 1990, and it has had a limited presence in Aiken County for about six years, said Jackie Richards, the associate director of the organization.

"We're ready to bring all of our programs to Aiken," said Ms. Richards, whose office is in Columbia.

On July 21, members of the association held a picnic at H. Odell Weeks Activity Center in Aiken, where families had the opportunity to interact with one another.

Social events are important for Mrs. Marks-Johnson and her children - Tres Marks, 11, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair; Taryn Marks, 6, who is autistic; and 10-month-old Tristen Johnson, who has a hearing impairment.

In some settings, people stare at Tres because of his condition, said Mrs. Marks-Johnson, and it bothers Taryn.

With Family Connection outings, "I can bring Tres, and no one is staring at him," she said.

Family Connection has many programs for special needs families, Ms. Richards said. Among them are a parent-to-parent support system, respite care, couples workshops and a father network.

"Fathers respond differently," Ms. Richards said. "They don't need the emotional support that sometimes moms need."

In the parent-to-parent program, parents are matched up based on their needs, she said.

There are also programs for siblings to allow them to verbalize how they feel about the special needs child without fear, Ms. Richards said.

For more information, call (800) 578-8750 or (803) 649-7981.

Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at

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