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Westfield's Special Education Committee to Host Awareness Expo March 19

Jill D'Ambrosio

Thursday, March 13, 2014 • 12:50pm

Westfield, NJ – Parents, educators and administrators are invited to attend the Westfield Parent-Teacher Council Special Education Committee’s 21st annual Awareness Expo on Wednesday, March 19 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Edison Intermediate School, 800 Rahway Avenue.

Free and open to the public, the expo will showcase a series of panel discussions by local doctors, teachers, therapists and attorneys covering a wide variety of topics relevant to the special education community. Parents and teachers from districts outside of Westfield are welcome.

In addition, a total of 3.0 continuing professional education credits are available for the two sessions offered.

“I’m very pleased with the roster we’ve got this year,” said Julie Steinberg, chairperson of the expo and the parent of a special needs student.

Many of the members of the special education committee have personal experience working with the evening’s speakers, Steinberg noted.

One of the new topics to be discussed this year is “Understanding Depression in Youth,” an issue that was suggested through a survey done at last year’s expo. Similarly, another session will be “Identifying and Treating Anxiety Disorder in School-Age Children.”

“We try and address some of the new concerns that are out there,” said Lisa Wendel, chairperson of the special education committee.

Other sessions planned are “ADHD and Your Tween/Teen,” “Advocating for Autism,” “Technology and Children: Adapting Toward Independence,” “Navigating Insurance and Healthcare Bureacracy,” “ABA by the Numbers: How to Measure Your Child’s Progress,” “Central Auditory Processing Disorder: Strategies In & Out of the Classroom,” “Practical Reading Strategies” and “Decoding the Psycho-Educational Evaluations: Measure Tests & Results.”

Vendors including Children’s Specialized Hospital will also be at the expo, as will representatives from Union County Parks and Recreation and Buddy Ball, a baseball program for kids with special needs, Steinberg said.

Dr. Michael Weissman, assistant superintendent for special services, encouraged parents seeking advice and resources for their special needs child and support for themselves to attend the expo. He knows of no other district in the area that offers such a conference.

“I think it helps to normalize some of what parents are experiencing,” he said. “They’re certainly not alone.”

The Westfield School District has about 6,200 students. Roughly 1,000 pupils receive special education services through an individualized education plan, or IEP, according to Weissman. An additional 120 pupils have speech-only IEPs.

Receiving a diagnosis that requires special services for a child can take a toll on families, and the situation is often made more difficult by an over-abundance of information to decipher, expensive treatments and troubles with insurance carriers.

“You’re thrown into this incredible world that you have to learn to navigate,” Steinberg said. “It’s things like the PTC and the expo that help you navigate.”

Jody Litwin Paul, a speech and language pathologist with a private practice in Westfield, has worked extensively with students who have learning disabilities. She and kindergarten teacher Patricia Corcoran will discuss practical reading strategies at the expo.

Paul recommends that those who work with children who have reading issues regularly reevaluate their teaching methods.

 “It’s essential for parents and teachers to continually reassess what’s effective,” she said. “What might be working for a child in September might not be working as well later in the year, so it’s important to always be aware of the need to adjust techniques and strategies as necessary.”

The special education committee represents parents of all Westfield children who are classified. Its primary focus is to provide a support network for families and to advocate for special needs kids. Besides organizing the expo, the committee also holds monthly meetings and awards scholarships.

For its dedication and energy, the committee was nominated by district Superintendent Margaret Dolan for the 2014 Unity Achievement Award given by Union County. The winner will be announced in May.

For more information on the Awareness Expo, visit http://westfield-awareness-expo.blogspot.com.

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