Special Section to:
The Valley Gazette
The Stratford Star
The Milford Mirror
The Trumbull Times
The Monroe Courier
The Easton Courier
SPRING 2014 HERSAM ACORN NEWSPAPERS
by Melissa Ezarik
Parents of students in the special education system spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture as well as scrutiniz-ing the details. Navigating the system well requires the abil-ity to envision a life for your child well into the future and then actively partnering with the school team each year (and throughout the year) to develop the broader goals and more specific objectives to help that child access an appropriate education — through the right supports — and live up to his or her potential as a contribut-ing member of society.Often with multiple diagnoses to understand and work through the challenges of, the sped parent may well feel the need to connect with, learn from, and feel sup-ported by like-minded parents. With a number of active special educa-tion parent groups in our area, these parents don’t need to feel alone. Here’s what any local parent should know about the special needs parent and the groups they turn to for support.
The stakes are high.
“If you don't learn what you need to know, your child — and your whole family — will struggle through unmitigated stress without learn-ing the necessary skills and strategies to be successful,” said Eve Kessler, co-founder of SPED*NET Wilton, an advocacy and supportive network for Connecticut special needs families.
A night out is more likely to involve a lec-ture than some liquor.
“Knowledge is power when it comes to parenting your child with special needs. Parents need other parents and professionals to talk to and learn from,” Kessler said. In other words, sped parents are snagging babysit-ters and meeting up to take in presentations from experts who can help them navigate a complex sys-tem.
Their conversations involve acronyms.
“So anyway, we were in our PPT developing the IEP and I requested an FBA conducted by a highly qualified BCBA so that our BIP would be most appropriate.” It’s the kind of sentence overheard when sped parents are on the playground, in between discussions about their private ABA, OT, and PT therapy sessions. (And, yes, they know they talk funny.) Their children have various differences. Alan Llewelyn, president of Stratford SEPTA, said he’ll sometimes get asked if the “A” in “SEPTA” is for autism. But the organization helps support and guide any family involved in special education, including people still in the qualifying process or whose chil-dren have 504 instead of IEP plans.
They think big.
Jeffry Spahr of Norwalk, whose son has ADHD and autism, among other challenges, spent several years as president of the Connecticut Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities and co-founded Norwalk SPED Partners. When he felt his own district wasn’t doing enough to raise awareness of ADHD, he persuaded Gov. Dannel Malloy to proclaim ADHD Awareness Week in October 2011.
Sped parent groups know dis-trict administrators like PTA presidents know principals.
In explaining what his group is, Llewelyn will “start with the PTA part, as that creates a ‘one-voice’ common ground starting point for the conversation,” he explained. But the big difference, he’ll say, is that “as a townwide PTA, we do not have a principal so instead SEPTAs get to work with central office administrators.” He’ll add that SEPTA has a “more global focus as the discussions impact more than one building.”
These groups are open to all.
Stratford SEPTA, for example, is for anyone who cares about a child with any kind of individual difference that poses challenges in school and beyond. “I sometimes hear that parents don’t participate because they’re not members,” Llewelyn said. “We have never turned anyone away from a meeting or a speaking engagement, so go ahead and join the PTA at your home school and then if you need support or guidance, just find us.”
They want a voice.
When the statewide Municipal Opportunities & Regional Efficiencies (M.O.R.E.) Commission put together a special education working group to collaborate on legislation that could save municipalities and taxpayers money, Spahr and others noticed that no parents were includ-ed as members. In response, his organization is partnering with local SPED*NET, Special Education PTA (SEPTA), and Special Education PTO (SEPTO) groups, as well as special education attorneys and other experts, and to form the Special Ed Parents Network Alliance. “As a parent of a special ed kid, you don’t have a lot of time for this stuff, you don’t have a secretary,” he said. “Legislators respond to voting blocks. We wanted then to know we’re not just an isolated parent. Collectively, we’re talking about 10,000 votes.”“It’s particularly appropriate for the people making decisions for our state to understand that there is a whole silent com-munity out there with a common interest of making sure their kids’ special education needs are addressed,” he added.
Melissa Ezarik is secretary and a co-founder of Stratford SEPTA.
Connecting Connecticut’s special education parents
Special Education Parent Groups
Brookfield SEPTA; firstname.lastname@example.org Connecticut PTSA SEPTA’s page: ctpta.org/SEPTA.htmlCT Special Education PTO Alliance; facebook.com/pages/CT-Special-Education-PTO-Alliance Fairfield SEPTA; fairfieldsepta.org North Star (Derby area parents); northstarsupportgroup.comPizza Moms (Darien); sites.google.com/site/pizzamomssite/ SEPTO Network; septonetwork.org Special Parents, Special Kids of Milford, CT; spsk-milford-ct.comSpectrum Shelton, facebook.com/SpectrumofSheltonCTSPED*NET Greenwich; spednetgreenwich.orgSPED*NET New Canaan; spednet.orgSPED*NET Wilton; spednetwilton.org Stratford SEPTA; stratfordsepta.orgTrumbull Parents of Students with Learning Differences; www.trumbullps.org/depart-ments/pupil-services/ parent-support.htmlWest Haven SEPTA; westhavensepta.wordpress.com/