IMPERIAL — Parents learned the joy of navigating the journey to engage with children who have developmental disabilities by plotting through the system of services to raise a child with special needs more effectively.
Imperial Valley’s third annual Parent Conference consisted of workshops and even musical performances by special needs children at the T.L. Waggoner School on Saturday. The program welcomed 60 individuals and 25 service agency information tables and noted Debbie Marshall, community program specialist of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities.
“We want parents to connect with resources while taking care of themselves and other members of the family so their special needs child gets what they need,” said Marshall.
The conference addressed parents of children with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and epilepsy.
In welcoming remarks, Adriana Cazares, social work counselor with San Diego-Imperial Counties Developmental Services Inc., began with a story of her own life, as a 19-year old mother of a special needs child she was told by a doctor she was ignorant. It was a hurtful and frightening accusation.
“But thanks to that word I became motivated wanted to make a change,” said Cazares. “But by you being here, that is one step to demolishing ignorance. Get educated, and learn to navigate the system.”
Keynote speaker Elvia Cortes, a mental health professional with Family Mental Health (FINE Inc.) told of her experience of adopting a prematurely born infant who was extremely small and required extra care. At four years old her daughter, though still fragile, is more active and bonded well with her adoptive parents.
“Parents must take time to care for their own health, control their own emotions that can impact the entire household, in order to help their child to thrive,” she said.
A workshop on bullying prevention was led by Luisamaria Fuentes of the Team of Advocates for Special Kids. Bullying is much more complex than just physical violence but can include verbal abuse, gossip, cyberbullying or sexual innuendo. Bullies can be anyone and their targets have no typical profile.
“Help your child recognize the signs and be supportive,” said Fuentes. “Explore options for intervention strategies that can be implemented at school with follow-up to resolve issues.”
Jazmin Reyes’ sixth-grade son Julien has ADHD and is receiving special-needs attention. He is well-integrated with the other children but still subjected to bullying.
“In Imperial County most of the programs are for low-income but for the middle-class it’s very expensive and without support groups that can provide for my son’s special needs,” confided Reyes. “But today I already learned about other programs like SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area). I’ll be going to them soon. I am my child’s biggest advocate.”
SELPA, one of the two dozen agencies invited to be table visitors, is managed by Kurt Leptich, senior director. Leptich noted, one of the things SELPA supports is putting the child ahead of the disease so they are never defined by their affliction. “It’s all about instilling dignity in the child,” said Leptich. “And what results is the child becomes more included in activities.”
Staff Writer William Roller can be reached at email@example.com or 760-337-3452.