BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Parents with a special needs child already raise a complex family only to navigate complicated systems meant to help their children.
Parents from all over Kern County gathered Friday at Hodel’s Country Dining for the “Specially Yours” conference geared for parents to not only build a community of parents with special needs children, but to also help each other build healthy families.
“What doors do I knock at to get the services that they need?” said Alicia Lopez, mother of a non-verbal, autistic son. “At the beginning of the journey, you don’t know what to do. You feel lost.”
Approximately 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. That’s according to data by the CDC.
Parents gathered at the conference had many pressing questions, among them: “Where do I start?” “What doors do I knock at to get the services my kids need?” and “What are my rights?”
Lopez has navigated the complicated special education system and feels comfortable helping other parents with special needs children. Other parents like Renee Gonzalez, whose daughter has a learning disability, hope they can ease the stress that new parents experience.
“It is a long process,” said Gonzalez. “It is not a fast nor easy one, but in the end, it’s so that my child can be high-functioning in her general ed class.”
According to the California Department of Education, Learning Disabilities, Speech and Language delays, and Autism are the top three conditions affecting around 11.4% of Kern’s students that require special education services.
“Some of these parents already have help at their school sites,” said Estefany Ruiz, Program Coordinator for the Kern County Consortium. “They’re looking to see what they can do at home.”
Javier Arroyo came from Shafter, realizing he is his son’s only advocate. Arroyo hopes to bring back resources to help his 6-year-old son with Down syndrome.
“He gets held back from other kids, especially at recess,” said Arroyo. “I came here to find a little more inclusion for him.”
While advocating for his son, Arroyo realizes this is a community of parents that advocate for each other.
“We kind of build each other up,” said Arroyo. “We tell each other you’re going to be fine, we share information.”
The conference takes place every other year, but if you missed this one, presentations and resources available will be published in the next couple of weeks by logging on to www.kern.org/selpa.