From the February 2018 issue

A Lifesaver for Kids With Special Needs

Michigan Alliance for Families' parent mentors help children in special education – by helping their parents navigate the system.

Parenting doesn’t come with a manual. Thanks in part to instinct and advice from veteran parents, most moms and dads do eventually get the hang of things. Of course, though, there are some areas where they could use a little extra help – especially if their child has special needs.

Kids with special needs or developmental delays often come with a new set of challenges. And when it comes time to get them into school, those challenges get a bit tougher.

But their parents aren’t alone.

Michigan Alliance for Families (MAF) an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Grant Funded Initiative through the Michigan Department of Education Office of Special Education and the Parent Training and Information Center – wraps parents with the support they need.

MAF’s programming helps parents support and advocate for their child. Their parent mentors, who’ve navigated the special education system firsthand, guide parents along every step of the way.

“I think we do important work that is vital for any family that is going through the special education system,” says Kanika Littleton, an MAF parent mentor in Oakland and Livingston counties. “I got involved because my son, who will be 13, has autism. My husband and I got him involved in special education at 2 years old, and it was just a daunting experience that we wish we had support through.”

Because Littleton – and the other parent mentors across Michigan – has direct experience, she’s able to understand parents’ questions and concerns and provide them with information they might not otherwise easily obtain.

“Schools are often bogged down with a lot of different things, and they aren’t always able to explain to parents their rights and what they can do,” she explains. “We help parents to problem-solve, and we walk parents through the system.”

MAF does this by listening to the needs of parents, educators and other professionals and setting up workshops and classes that benefit parents based on their needs.

“We do offer a number of different programs and workshops, and we align them with the needs of our parents,” Littleton says. “We help them understand the individualized education program, or IEP, and provide them with foundational knowledge on getting started on the basics of what their child’s program should look like. We also do a lot of transitional workshops to high school and beyond, positive behavior support and alternatives to guardianship, which gives parents different options as far as making sure their young adult is set and has the services he or she needs – but also giving that adult autonomy.”

And the parents involved with Michigan Alliance see the benefits almost instantly.

“For a lot of years, I felt like my daughter needed more assistance than what she was receiving,” says Ashleigh Christon, whose 8-year-old, Alana, receives special education services – and works with Littleton. “Kanika connected me with the resources, which got the school to do the testing and things they needed to do. Since I’ve been dealing with (Michigan Alliance for Families), I’ve got the results I was seeking.”

While it can be intimidating to approach a group for help, as Littleton puts it, all kids have a right to a good education and success in school and beyond.

“Don’t think about it – just do it,” Christon says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about your kids. And if you’re not getting the results on your own, seek help from people that know what you’re going through. (MAF) really will fight for you.”

To learn more about its services, visit michiganallianceforfamilies.org, call 800-552-4821 or email info@michiganallianceforfamilies.org.

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