My 7 favorite websites and resources for raising a child with special needs
I work as a special education advocate and spend much time volunteering on related causes. I come into contact with many who are not aware of some of the fantastic resources that are available. Whenever I am presenting workshops or working with clients, I often say, “If you have to live with special needs, be glad you live in the Philadelphia region.” It’s true—we have many options and resources available to us that many parts of the state and country do not have. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you.
Right to Education Task Force-Too many families are not even aware that this opportunity exists, and it’s a great system set up only in Pennsylvania. The Right to Education Task Force was created in 1972 as part of the P.A.R.C. Consent Agreement that provided for a free, appropriate public education for children with mental retardation. In 1975, the Right to Education was extended by State regulations to include learning disabilities, physical handicaps, emotional difficulties and hearing, visual, speech, and language impairment. The purpose of the Local Task Force (LTF) is to assist in improving education for all school-age children with special needs. You can find out about monthly meetings at their website, and usually both day and evening times are offered. They have interesting and informative guest speakers, and the LTF assists with monitoring Special Education in all the districts.
The Monitoring Committee, made up of Task Force members, parents and other volunteers, participates in the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s compliance monitoring process by encouraging parent participation in a local task force monitoring process. The LTF monitoring occurs in your school district (every five years) just prior to the Commonwealth’s process and provides valuable parent feedback and information to the Commonwealth’s monitors. The Committee may visit classrooms where special education programs are conducted by local school districts, the Intermediate Unit and approved private schools. It reports to the Local Task Force at their meeting, outlining observations and recommendations.
I always share LTF information with families, as I feel it is one of the best and most underused resources that we have in Pennsylvania.
PaTTAN-PaTTAN stands for Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, and their mission is to support the efforts and initiatives of the Bureau of Special Education, a part of the PA Department of Education. Whew, that’s a mouthful. But the good news is that one of their regional offices is right here in King of Prussia, and they often have workshops, trainings, webinars and other resources for parents of children with special needs. One of their main goals is to assist parents, so take advantage of it! The also run the PA Autism Conference and Low-Incidence Conference and offer parent scholarships to most of their trainings.
Arc of Chester County-This was founded in 1952 by local parents who wanted to make lives better for their children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The group was originally known as The Association for Retarded Children then later The Association for Retarded Citizens. Now they are simply The Arc.
For over 60 years, the Arc has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of all people with disabilities in Chester County and beyond (there is an Arc of PA and Arc of USA also). One of my favorite things is their monthly email newsletter called “Arconnections.” It’s a listing of hundreds of trainings, support groups, classes, recreational opportunities, lectures and so much more—all for families living with special needs.
NAMI Pennsylvania Montgomery County– It’s commonly referred to as “NAMI Montco” and was founded in 1979 in order to help families living with mental illnesses. They offer support group meetings at three separate locations in the county (south, mid-county and north), education and information about mental illnesses, family-to-family mentoring programs, recreational activities, advocacy and more. Part of their mission is to make sure that families living with mental illness do not feel alone, so if you feel alone, go check them out.
CHOP-Many families associate CHOP with their top-notch medical care, but only wish to visit CHOP in a worst-case scenario. They offer so much more—like classes, workshops, conferences, recreational opportunities, services for siblings and many other opportunities you may find useful.
NSEAI-Based in Wayne, PA, this national organization offers parent trainings and workshops for you to become a better advocate for your child in the special education system. They also maintain a list of special education advocates if you feel your family needs one.
ADayInOurShoes-I couldn’t end this list without shamelessly plugging my own site. I am a certified Special Education Advocate and my blog is an offshoot of my passion for helping families living with special needs. While my award-winning blog is nationally and internationally read, my heart belongs to Chester County so I focus many of my writings on topics in our region. Follow my site if you need IEP assistance or have an IEP question, want to learn about local, fun, recreational opportunities for our kids, or find a special education advocate to assist your family. I also have a weekly feature called “Tuesday To-Do List” where I give you easy action steps to become a more involved advocate and champion for causes that affect our families.
Well, hopefully you learned something that you can use for this post. Our lives are really hard sometimes as parents in a special needs family. There are resources out there; you just need to know where to look. Good luck and hope to see you on my site. Lisa Lightner lives in southern Chester County with her family. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest of through her website linked above.