Special Education PTO sponsors ‘Parent Boot Camp’

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Willington - posted Tue., Mar. 5, 2013
Sarah Reed, director of advocacy and family services with Autism Services and Resources Connecticut, walked parents and caretakers of children with special needs through the Individualized Education Program document. Photo by Annie Gentile.
Sarah Reed, director of advocacy and family services with Autism Services and Resources Connecticut, walked parents and caretakers of children with special needs through the Individualized Education Program document. Photo by Annie Gentile.

When it comes to the education and social development of their children, parents and caretakers of children on the autism spectrum experience any number of challenges, and the Success Special Education Parent Teacher Organization in Willington wants to help.

On Saturday, March 2, Success SEPTO held the first part of a four-session Parent Boot Camp for caregivers of children with autism. The event was held at the Willington Public Library and was presented by Wallingford-based Autism Services and Resources of Connecticut, a leader in state legislative advocacy for autism programs and services.

“In rural areas like [Willington], there is often very little in terms of programs for children with autism,” said Sara Reed, director of advocacy and family services with ASRC. “Additionally, many families with autistic children end up having to have one parent either quit their job or work fewer hours to tend to their child’s needs, and that creates financial stress. Add to that the fact that the family often cannot hire the teenager next door as a babysitter for their autistic child, or call on a neighbor in a pinch, and it adds even more stress,” she said. “[Parents of special needs children] can feel they are alone, and we want them to know they are not alone.”

The parents who attended the program came for a variety of reasons. Gerrie Ouellette, of Stafford, mother of an 11-year-old diagnosed on the autism spectrum, said she has been working with her child’s teachers in the public school system for several years, and while the challenges can be daunting at times, it is absolutely necessary to stay connected. “As a parent, you’re the only one who is going to advocate for your child,” she said.

Jennifer Rosado, of Higganum, said she came not just for the education but for support. “Sometimes we feel there is a hesitation on pediatricians’ part to say a child may have autism, but it can be almost a relief to hear it, because then you have somewhere to look for help. Parent support groups are huge,” she said.

The first Boot Camp session was devoted to helping parents understand the nuts and bolts of the Individualized Education Program (IEP), the guiding document that defines the objectives and sets the goals for their child’s education. Mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the IEP is tailored specifically to the individual child’s needs and is intended to assist teachers and other service providers to understand the child’s disability and how to help the child learn more effectively. It is put together by the child’s team, which includes the child’s parents or guardians, teachers, service providers, guidance counselors and others who play a role in his or her education.

The IEP can be summed up simply: documentation, documentation, documentation. At the session, parents were informed about what exactly the IEP is, why it is important, the information that should be included in it, and how to write an effective IEP.

“If you’ve asked for specific things and you’ve been told ‘yes,’ make sure it’s written in here,” said Reed. The IEP also should include any actions proposed and actions refused, and if a parent has requested a particular action, and it is refused, justification for that refusal needs to be documented in writing in the IEP, Reed said. She added if parents can’t get answers, they should never be afraid to call the Bureau of Special Education and talk to the person assigned to their district or in charge of a particular topic.

“It is incredibly imperative for parents to know the IEP,” said Brenda Stenglein, vice president of Success SEPTO and mother of a special needs child. “As a special education teacher, I live and breathe this information,” she said.

Cathy Britschock, president of Success SEPTO, added that she wants to encourage educators, administrators, paraprofessionals, and especially parents to come to their meetings.

“Parents’ voices should be heard,” she said. “We have fundraisers. We have officer positions open. We want people to get involved and have a sense of ownership.”

Sessions 3 and 4 of the Boot Camp will be held on Saturday, March 23 and April 6, both in the lower level Community Room at the Willington Public Library. Individual sessions are $25 each and include lunch. To register for a session, call ASRC at 203-265-7717 or e-mail sara@asconn.org. For more information about Success SEPTO, visit www.successsepto.org.


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