Showcase Services for Special Needs

Posted on January 30, 2012


If 7-year-old Jordan Robie wants Tom Brady in her picture – and she really, really does- she’ll have to type something first. She carefully types “football’’ on an iPad keyboard, and then her occupational therapist helps her finish “player.’’

English: iPad tablet

Image via Wikipedia

The iPad application is a game that lets the Natick girl drop a seemingly endless array of nouns into a picture just by typing in the request. It’s cute, but, more importantly for Jordan, it also encourages her to practice her fine motor skills.

Jordan was born with a mild brain structure abnormality that causes difficulties with writing and typing. The Robie family had a frustrating and long search to find the right therapist for Jordan, who now can write in a childlike script.

Next month, Jordan’s parents and others from the Natick Special Education Parent Advisory Council will be holding the inaugural Metrowest Special Needs Resource Fair. The event, which is already sold out for vendors, will be held Feb. 12 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Bennett-Hemenway Elementary School, 22 East Evergreen Road in Natick.

“If I can make it easier for one other parent . . . then I’ll be very pleased,’’ said Jody Robie, Jordan’s mother.

Jordan’s occupational therapist, Jill Perry, with Children’s Therapy Associates in Natick, will be one of about 30 providers at the fair. Although events like this have been organized for children with Down syndrome or autism, Robie said, it’s unusual to find something geared to a wide variety of children with special needs.

“This doesn’t mean you have to have a serious diagnosis to come,’’ she added.

There will be providers at the fair who help children with attention-deficit disorder or socialization difficulties, she said, as well as a yoga instructor, a therapist who uses horseback riding, a neuropsychologist, and a babysitter for children with special needs.

One of the scheduled participants is Anna Wood, who runs an adaptive sports program through Sudbury’s Park and Recreation Department. The program, which launched in 2010, offers activities for adults and children with disabilities.

“Since we’ve started, we’ve had over 200 community members with disabilities access our programs from 41 different towns,’’ said Wood.

The Sudbury program has offered soccer for people with power wheelchairs, yoga for people with multiple sclerosis, and several options for children on the autism spectrum, including music, tae kwon do, and swimming.

It can be challenging for parents of special needs children to find help because they are often overwhelmed, said Ellen Kilicarslan, vice president of family support services for the Charles River Center, which has offices in Natick and Needham.

Her organization is participating in next month’s MetroWest fair, and will promote its sibling support groups, financial assistance, and after-school programs, among other resources, Kilicarslan said.

Nonprofit organizations like hers usually don’t have huge advertising budgets, and so rely on outreach, to doctors’ offices for example, and word of mouth, she said.

“I’m still amazed sometimes when a family – when they finally find us, they [say], ‘Where were you?’ ’’ said Kilicarslan. “This is going to be a great opportunity.’’

Needham resident Stephanie Timmons has been involved in the special needs community for 18 years, since her son Alec was born developmentally disabled. She said the fair will be a huge help to families.

“There is not a centrally located area to go to to find resources, recreational activities, things like that, for kids with special needs,’’ she said. “I think it’s an excellent idea.’’

The fair will also give parents a chance to feel less alone, said Timmons.

“There’s a special camaraderie between parents that have kids with special needs because there’s not that many of us out there,’’ she said.

“The special needs world is very small, and if you kind of entrench yourself in it, you can get pretty much everything you need for your child. It’s all there. It’s just finding it.’’

That sense of community is extremely important, said Jody Robie, because the support a parent can get from other families who are also immersed in the challenges of raising a child with special needs is irreplaceable.

“You’ve got your friends, you’ve got your family, you’ve got your neighbors – but they’re not in the club,’’ she said.