Workshops offer special needs help
Maritza McCormick helps her son Malachi, 8, grasp cotton balls using clothing pins. The pinching exercise helps Malachi, who is autistic, strengthen his hand muscles and improve his fine motor skills.

Workshops offer special needs help

By KRIS GONZALEZ, Fort Jackson Leader

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Before moving here, Maritza McCormick heard that Fort Jackson was the optimal duty station for families with special needs.

But since arriving in August, McCormick said she has found it difficult to get the same kind of care for her son that he had received at other installations.

Her son, Malachi, 8, is autistic. At his last school at Fort Bragg, he was given an Individual Education Plan prescribing the services he needs to be successful at school.

Now that he attends school here, McCormick said she and Malachi's teachers are limited by policies and a lack of resources to accommodate his unique needs. McCormick also said she's not fully aware of what programs are available beyond the classroom to help Malachi reach his highest academic potential.

To assist families like the McCormicks, the Fort Jackson School Board, partnered with the Department of Defense Education Activity and Pro-Parent of South Carolina, will host two educational workshops for parents, caregivers and educators of special needs children next week.

The first workshop will focus on DoDEA-specific special needs training from 3-5 p.m., Feb. 24, at the C.C. Pinckney Elementary School Auditorium.

The second workshop will explain rights, roles and responsibilities as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and is scheduled for March. The workshops are an outgrowth of meetings between administrators and a newly formed parents' group focused on improving special education services at Fort Jackson.

"We determined that providing educational opportunities to our community would help establish a better framework to advocate for children with special needs," said Josh Harms, school board member and head of the special needs subcommittee.

Subcommittee member Austin Davis said he faced hardships similar to those of the McCormicks with his own child.

"When I came here as a special needs parent, I was unaware of the laws and regulations regarding special needs," Davis said. "Like a lot of people, I didn't know where to go or whom to talk to just to start the process."

Harms said he is finding that many parents here are not being given the proper guidance for starting the process of an IEP or a 504 plan.

"The parents are sent on a wild goose chase, and everywhere they are sent they are told to go somewhere else," Harms said.

"Special needs parents are already going through a lot for their child." Davis said. "When they come up against something like this, it makes it worse for them."

The workshops will serve as a forum for parents to find out what they have to do and who they need to see to help them reach their goals for their children, Harms said.

Some issues to be discussed at the workshops include: how to get evaluations for IEPs or 504 plans; making sure IEPs are filled out properly; special education policies and regulations on post and within DoDEA; federal mandates, availability of resources and programs on and off post; and the need for acquiring qualified staff, such as psychologists, and occupational and physical therapists.

The subcommittee members said they are hoping many parents will attend.

"We need parents to share their experiences, both negative and positive," said Holly King, board president. "Nothing will get better if parents don't become part of the solution."

"If the focus is going to be on issues that effect one of my kids, I'm going to be there," McCormick said.

For more information call 751-6150.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16