For parents of children with special needs, navigating through the specialized services that are offered in the region can be a complicated and daunting task. In an effort to increase access to these resources, area organization gathered together to hold the annual Connecting the Dots Expo Saturday morning.
The event, now in its fourth year, brought together representatives with various regional organizations under the same roof to speak with caregivers for children with special needs about what assistance they can provide.
“Our goal was to create one place where people can go gather information on all the services in the area,” Lori May, director of special education for Denison Independent School District, said.
In total, about 30 organizations, including area school districts and special education co-ops, attended the event and distributed information about their services. May said these services ranged from those aimed at individuals with autism and intellectual challenges to mobility issues.
While many of the services were aimed at younger children, May said the event also showed the need to plan for life past 18 and connected parents to resources that would continue into adulthood. These services go beyond traditional care and include legal preparations and financial care, she said.
Plano-based attorney Macy Melton gave a talk about the legal services and considerations that go into creating a guardianship, special needs trusts and planning that can assist those with special needs once they have left home.
“I am not just an attorney — I also have a 20-year-old son with autism, so I live this myself,” she said.
Melton noted that adulthood also brings the opportunities for additional government assistance for those with special needs. Many income-based programs will consider a parent’s income when determining eligibility. However, once a child hits the age of 18 they become their own household, she said.
Among those in attendance for Saturday’s expo was Brandi Conary, who was attending for the second time. She said the event helped give her a peace of mind as it vastly simplified the search for specialized services in the area.
“Before, I would search on the internet for things and it was overwhelming as a parent,” she said. “I was just lost.”
Beyond the services themselves, Conary said she took some comfort in being able to speak with other parents who have children with special needs. It helps to know that she is not the only one in the area who has had to work through similar challenges, she said.
“I felt alone when I was given the initial diagnosis,” she said. “I knew others existed out there, but I knew none in my area.”
For others, the event gave them the opportunity to inform themselves on the region’s services so that they can better inform others about what is available.
Connie Patton helped organize the first Connecting the Dots expo four years ago when she worked in special education for DISD. Now, she attends the annual event to help inform parents in her role as a school counselor.
“I have parents asking a lot of questions and this is a good place to gather the answers,” she said.