By Sue Botos
All children have “bumps in the road,” causing their parents occasional concerns, be they low grades in school, extreme shyness or choice of friends. But when these worries become overwhelming, it’s often frustrating finding where to go for advice.
As the mother of two children who “struggled,” Sarah Rintamaki knew she had to do something to make it easier for parents to find the professionals who could help smooth that road for their children, or could just answer their questions.
So, 18 months ago, Rintamaki started “Connecting for Kids,” which provides education and support for families with questions or concerns about their child’s development.
“I started this group to help moms just like me,” Rintamaki said. The organization’s website (www.connectingforkids.com) tells the story of how she desperately searched the Internet, and traveled back and forth to numerous doctors and specialists to treat her then 2-year-old’s speech delay.
“When my youngest was diagnosed, it was devastating. I wanted to do everything I could, but it was so hard and so emotionally draining, “she added during a recent interview.
Over time, Rintamaki helped form an informal support group, where parents of struggling children would share everything from news about a new therapy or program, to their feelings of grief, frustration and joy when something worked.
Because this help was so beneficial to Rintamaki, she decided to reach out to other parents, not only those with children having a diagnosis, but to those with concerns about their children’s development.
“We did a survey and found out that the information about providers for services for children is so fragmented and hard to find. As a parent, it’s so frustrating,” she said, adding that this knowledge was not something easily found through Google.
“A lot of speech therapists don’t have a website,” she stated.
Through her experiences, Rintamaki found that there was a “huge gap” in the special needs world. She said that there are many good programs in place for children diagnosed with such conditions as ADHD, but for those who are quick-tempered, have difficulty making friends or are impulsive, it is often difficult to find answers.
“We serve all children and all areas of child development, whether it is physical, emotional, social, adaptive or cognitive,” Rintamaki stated, adding that labels are not used within the group. She said the 500 families who are Connecting for Kids members run the gamut from those having a formal diagnosis to those with concerns about their child’s development.
Open to all families with children ages 3-12 in western Cuyahoga and eastern Lorain counties, Connecting for Kids offers a speaker series, an “online community” and a directory of professionals and programs that specialize in children and offer services in the area.
Support events, such as “Mom’s Night Out “and “Dad Days,” are also offered. Rintamaki said that one of the most popular events is coming up on March 21 at the Rocky River Civic Center. The second annual “Meet and Greet with Therapists, Programs and Camps” runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and is free to the public. “The meet and greet offers one-stop shopping for parents to find the right fit in therapists, after-school programs and summer camps,” Rintamaki said.
New this year will be a networking hour for professionals prior to the event. “This gives us a chance to connect with other professionals in the area,” stated Ken DeLuca, who runs a counseling center for both children and adults, and often makes referrals. “It’s obviously good to become aware of who else is out there,” said DeLuca, one of this year’s sponsors.
Jill Zupon of The Attention Center, also a sponsor, agreed. “It allows us to connect in ways we would not be able to anywhere else. I could stay until midnight,” she stated, adding that she takes back many samples and ideas to her clients. “You’d be a fool not to take part in this.”