(originally written & published on January 26, 2012)
If you've been reading my blog or Facebook Page for awhile you"ll know that we take advantage of alot of "special needs" activities in our area.
We take Kyle on the weekend to music therapy, special needs gymnastics, and a special needs swim lesson. And during the week he goes to an aquatic occupational therapist and a special needs movement class.
And many of you have asked how we find out about these things.
Thankfully we live in the suburbs outside of NYC and there's alot of "special needs" opportunities out there... you just gotta know where to look.
Without giving away my precious anonymity :-) and getting into exactly where I live, let me just say that I believe each state in the US has an Office of Disabilities.
I don't have the time right now to find the links & how it works in all 50 states the way I did for my Handicap Placard for Autism Post. So for now I'll tell you how things work for us in NY
In NY there is the NY State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) http://www.opwdd.ny.gov/ and then each county in NY has it's own Develeopmental Disability Service Office (DDSO) http://www.opwdd.ny.gov/document/hp_contacts.jsp
It is these local DDSO offices that are often funding or partially funding alot of the special needs activities in our area. They gave out partial grants to the music therapy program and the swim program in our area which kept out of pocket costs for parents reasonable.
And even if they don't partially fund the special needs programs they will probably know about all of them in your area.
For us they've been an ENORMOUS asset for weekend / after school activities and even some respite services.
Now I know what many of you are thinking.
"You live in a big metro area but I live in a small city and I know that there's no special needs programs in my area."
To you I say... You know what? The programs in my area were started/ invented by someone years ago. So, why don't you start one in your community?
The wife has successfully done this twice and is trying to do it again. Years back she convinced a local Gymboree to add a special needs class to their roster. Last year she got after school music therapy instituted at Kyle's school. And this year she is trying to get a special needs gymnastics class set up at the Y (since Kyle has kinda outgrown the one he's currently in).
For Gymboree & the Y these were existing places that obviously were already set up with a weekly schedule of activities for typical kids.
My wife had some conversations with other autism moms in her circle to gauge their interest and when she felt like she had enough to fill a class she met with the owners/ managers and talked to them about it. And asked them to consider adding an extra class, a non-prime time time slot for special needs kids.
Sundays at 9am? Sure! Why not? Our kids are up at 5am anyway! LOL...
Basically she needed to convince them that (a) it would be profitable and (b) it didn't require additional staff because their would be more parent involvement then the typical kid classes and (c) that our kids wouldn't wreck the joint. Once they were convinced of all that, why wouldn't they do it? It's money in their pocket and they look good too!
Now these are things that we paid full price for. That was important to make them happen. But what we've learned about our local DDSO office is that they get grants all the time. And sometimes if you submit a proposal for funding or scholarships it's all about timing. You could just submit yours just as they received a grant and you'll get lucky and get your special needs class partially funded.
So I would say to get some special needs parents together and get cracking! Find the activities that the typical kids are doing on the weekends in your area and then think about how to structure it for our special needs kids. And don't think that it has to be an all autism class. Some of Kyle's favorite activities are ones that have a mix of all different disabilities. And there's alot more socialization when you mix disabilities!
One more things I want to say before I end this.
Please don't think that there's alot of learning going on in any of these activities or "therapies" or that Kyle gets a ton out of these sessions. Well the swimming he does. He's making some great progress there. But for the rest of them they are nice, fun activities that Kyle enjoys. And nice fun activities where mom & dad get to let our guard down and be around other special needs parents.
That's all I got right now. So round up all the special needs families in your area and find out what the equivalent of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) is in your state and get cracking!
And if you wanna send me the links to the OPWDD sites in your states I will add them to this blog post... or even special needs programs in your communities that you want people to know about. Mention them in your comments below and I will add them to this post.
If you're gonna shop Amazon anyway, can I ask that you enter Amazon by using the search box above or by going to http://www.amazon.com/?tag=a050ef-20 This way I can make a little money to help pay for my son's after school & weekend therapies. This blogging thing has been awesome & life changing for me... but I must admit that it's taking up a lot more time than I ever thought... so if I can make a few bucks it'll make it easier for me to justify....Love you all! Thanks!!