The first weekend in May, Josh and I went to the Parents Encouraging Parents (or PEP) conference. I cannot recommend it enough! Seriously. If you know anyone in Colorado who has a child with ANY disability, or ANY educator or professional in Colorado who works with kids with disabilities (it’s not just for parents), please ask them if they’ve heard of this or gone to it. It is sponsored by the Colorado Department of Education (or CDE) so if you don’t live in Colorado, check with your state’s Department of Education. Maybe they do something like this or maybe you could start one.
For three days and two nights, the CDE puts you up in a hotel. The room and all meals (except one dinner) are paid for! That alone is enough reason to go! Two free nights in a hotel with good food and a much needed break from the kids?! Sign me up! =D
It’s in a different Colorado city each time. The one we went to was in Colorado Springs but I know they’ve done Estes Park, Aspen and others.
There is no child care provided. The point is to get away from the kids for a few days. Honestly, this is a critical point of the days. Without the kids you can rest and learn well and come back to them as better equipped parents.
The three day conference unveils the mysteries about how to help your child get the best education possible. In Colorado, children ages 0-3 with disabilities get services through the Early Intervention program. At 3 years old, they are transfered to the education system. They will then get what’s called an IEP or Individual Education Plan.
I was terrified of this. I had no idea what to expect and honestly, all I had heard were horror stories. One of the sessions at the conference went through the actual IEP, what it looks like, what’s on it, and what sort of things should be put on it by us and our team. Another session had two lawyers who specialize in disability law. They explained the appeal process if you disagree with your school and what you can do to be the best advocate for your kids. I learned the legal definition of “adequate education” and the difference between “moderation” vs. “accommodation”. I learned how to ask for an evaluation of my “student” and what my rights as the parent are. This was from TWO of the many sessions.
Honestly, I don’t know if you can get approved to go if you suspect your child has an undiagnosed disability, but it would be worth it to find out. There is so much they can help you with.
The other big help we got was from a behavioral therapist, not for Levi, but for Jayden. She told us that was perfectly normal. Sometimes we get so much help for our children with disabilities and are given no help at all for their sibling’s behavioral or emotional responses.
There was also a session on the grieving process, what it looks like in life, and stories of others who have lived it. There are a few small group sessions too so you get to talk things through with new friends in full confidentiality (well, our group made our own rules and that was one of them).
There was also a session just for men, which I think is really important. I have no idea what they talked about. (The first rule of the men’s group is you do not talk about the men’s group.)
There were so many good sessions and so much fantastic information. I feel so incredibly well-armed now to be a great advocate for my son.
And here’s some pics of the cuteness: