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Valley Parents: Special Needs Support Center boosts engagement, connection by going remote

  • Members of the Special Needs Support Center's book club meet over Zoom. (Special Needs Support Center photograph)

Valley Parents Correspondent
Published: 2/12/2021 10:59:53 AM
Modified: 2/12/2021 10:59:49 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — For both special needs children and adults, the Special Needs Support Center has been a vital source of community and engagement, especially during the pandemic.

The pandemic has increased the vulnerability and social difficulties for many of the center’s participants and families, according to Executive Director Laura Perez.

In response, the center launched a weekly parent-peer support group, started new small-group programs and increased services to support families with remote learning. It has developed an Equity, Inclusions and Diversity task force to examine how race and disability intersect and also conducted a 10-week At Home Winter Series of 30- to 45-minute daily online classes with programs on books, cooking, art, community-based projects and fitness.

“Even before COVID-19, adults with disabilities in our community were prone to isolation, loneliness, and social difficulties, which have significant impacts on their happiness, health and overall well-being,” Perez said in an email, adding that research has shown that social isolation has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety and depression, among other conditions.

“Programs like the Special Needs Support Center’s At Home Winter Series decrease loneliness and isolation and increase belongingness, happiness and health.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Special Needs Support Center had few online programs.

Now it’s the majority of what the center does. And there’s a silver lining to going virtual: People who live in more rural part of the Upper Valley have greater access to programs. Previously, transportation and other challenges made it more difficult for them to get to the center for in-person events, Perez said.

In addition to people in the Upper Valley, participants from outside the region and even across the country have joined in.

“The pandemic has pushed us to develop robust virtual programs and we’ve learned that this has made social life more accessible for the people who we serve, and they want it to keep going,” Perez said. “In the future we will consider online accessibility a special accommodation that we will strive to provide for all of our programming.”

For more information about the Special Needs Support Center, visit

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