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Experts educate parents about special-needs children

October 30, 2005|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania is the birthplace of special education in the United States, thanks to a lawsuit filed by parents of a special-needs child many years ago, according to Kay Lipsitz of the Pennsylvania Education Network.

"Their child was at home, receiving no education," Lipsitz said. The education that child needs might be different from that the siblings receive, but the child must be educated, she said.

Local experts on special education gathered Saturday for a conference, "Children: Our Investment in the Future," to help parents better understand the educational processes necessary for their children.

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One of the presenters at the conference at the Chambersburg Church of the Brethren was Terry Dailey, a rehabilitation counselor with the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Dailey recommends that parents teach children to speak up and ask for what they need in terms of appropriate education.

"Teach them to be assertive, not aggressive," she said.

When necessary, parents should get involved, as Dailey did when she discovered that her son, who is dyslexic, was not being given achievement tests.

"The school didn't want to throw his results in with everyone else's and bring the average down," Dailey said.

She advocated for him, someone read the tests to him and he scored on Grade Level 16 in math and science.

Dailey recommends that college-bound high school students with special needs complete all of their assignments, even though the high school might not require it.

"Record your papers if your spelling is bad, but do all the assignments," Dailey said. "College isn't going to let you do reduced course requirements. You may get preferential seating, books on tape, etc., but you're going to have to do all the work."

When placing special-needs students in jobs, Dailey finds out what their learning styles are. They are taken out to four different jobs that they think they might be interested in and allowed to try them out, she said.

"Employers can be reimbursed for 50 percent of the wages for 90 days while training the employee," Dailey said. There also are tax credits for employers who hire the disabled.

Dailey educates employers about these incentives and many are becoming more receptive to hiring the disabled, she said.

Virginia Baker of Chambersburg said her 8-year-old son, Christopher, was misdiagnosed as having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 3, then correctly diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at age 4.

"He has social difficulties, difficulties with transitions, he's gullible, he's very literal; if someone says, 'Hold your horses,' he thinks there are real horses," Baker said. "He has trouble with common sense issues, and he can't stay focused."

Christopher, however, is highly intelligent and attends a regular class at U.L. Gordy Elementary School with a therapeutic support staff to assist him.

"I fought for him to have the least restrictive placement," Baker said. "Getting dressed is a challenge, but he can read an encyclopedia. Schools have a hard time understanding that."

Baker said she came to the conference to find out about the laws governing the Individualized Education Plan so that she can be a better advocate for her child.

"I want to learn what programs are out there for him," Baker said.

The conference was sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties in conjunction with AmeriCorps.

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