Parents of special needs children have outlet

Chelsea Peck

Parents of special needs students often times feel alone and overwhelmed, according to Libby Raab, Dunlap Special Education Parent Group coordinator.

Parents in Central Illinois no longer need to feel this way.

The Dunlap Special Education Parent Group offers a forum where parents can discuss different topics for their special needs children.

“We decided we needed a place where parents can get together and bring speakers in to talk about educational issues.

“We want it to be a positive forum. It’s not a place for complaining about the system, but to learn and share,” Raab, a mother of an autistic son, said.

Raab, along with Laura Sniff, started the group about six years ago and any parents in Central Illinois are invited to attend.

“We had met when our boys were in school together. Even though our children have different diagnoses, our fears were the same. We started meeting and then invited more moms in and needed a bigger place,” Raab said of the initial start to the program.

DSEPG meets once a month at Dunlap Valley Middle School.

“Even if we have someone talk, we always have time at the end to talk,” Raab said.

The group also has a “lending library” where parents can find books about their child’s disability for free.

The books are from other parents in the group who do not need them anymore.

The group also brings in lawyers to talk about special needs trust and wills, has behavior interventions and more.

Raab said the group hopes to make parents feel like they are not so alone.

“I think, as a parent, you feel you’re alone. I think it can be such a private thing. It’s really important to meet parents with the same fears and the same feelings, but with better solutions. The more people you know, the more knowledge there is,” Raab said.

“Communication is the key.”

The meetings usually have about 30 parents, depending on topic and availability, but there are 300 families on the mailing list.

Raab said they find speakers from the annual special needs informational fair they have each year. At the fair, organizations give information on what they offer special needs children.

Adult services, camps and summer programs for special needs children are among some of the organizations that attend.

Dunlap is putting together a special education advisory group to “facilitate the development of a long-term special education plan for the district,” according to the high school’s website.

The group will have about seven to 10 parents and there will be representatives from teachers and administrators.

Raab signed up to be a part of the group, but is waiting to hear back.

For more information on the special education parent group, send an e-mail to dunlapparentgroup@att.net.