Free Train the Trainer Program
By Dianne Anderson
Mary Lee had to learn the hard way about IEP services.
Her own son is high level autistic, and in the beginning, she knew little or nothing about local available resources to get him through his childhood education, and a productive adulthood.
She just had to hunt for it.
Today, her son has a job, attends community college, and he is thriving. She feels that gaining access to the right information in the early days made all of the difference between a troubled life for her child or moving forward despite his disability.
It’s also the reason why she got involved in providing resource outreach for parents in the first place.
“My son’s thriving was based on me getting educated and being able to utilize those services. Had I not had the training, I would not have known to go to the Regional Center,” she said.
On Friday, November 16, she is inviting social justice nonprofits, children’s rights, and autism advocacy organizations to attend the Special Needs Network train the trainer event. The free event will be held at the Fontana Foundation of Hope, located at 16730 Arrow Blvd. in Fontana from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This year, her organization has expanded their reach to train nonprofits and those who are working directly with parents. She is specifically focused on getting resources to African American families.
She said that Black parents are not accessing available IEP services at the Regional Center services as they should.
Lee’s organization is supported by grants available through the State Department of Developmental Services, which funds all Regional Centers to help close a long-standing gap in access for Black families and children.
Through her program, she trains on effective ways to reach parents with information about navigating the complicated governmental process of accessing IEP services. Many parents also do not know their rights, even though the services are available for their disabled children.
She said that educational equity continues to be a big local concern for several organizations, and African American students face a number of other health issues. Her training tries to link parents to better access to Regional Center services and strengthen parental engagement in education.
One area of concern is the over-representation of Black students across mental health or disabled categories that do not accurately reflect the needs of the students.
African American students are dealing with unmet services or wrong diagnosis.
“We are over-represented with ADHD, as opposed to autism. There are emotional disorders, and placement in Special Ed based on behaviors, as opposed to true assessment of student need,” she said.
A flawed assessment could lead an autistic child to be wrongly placed in IEP (Individualized Education Planning) for emotional disorders, or that parents are not receiving the right support and referrals for their students.
At times, she said the Regional Center may have denied services because the parents lack the required information, and the IEP meetings are not connecting with parents in a meaningful way to learn about their rights and resources.
“There’s a lot of under-communication, and over-representation in the wrong places,” she said.
Her last training drew 38 organizations. The upcoming event is not an IEP training, rather to help nonprofits learn more effective ways to guide parents about access services at the Regional Center.
The event will have a Regional Center trainer on site, and will address autism, developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, along with other developmental cognitive disabilities.
She is concerned that only a fraction of funds designated for the African American community are actually reaching families in need.
Her goal is to partner with other organizations in the area to help improve service utilization for African American students in the system, or in the school. Many of those that attend her trainings, like herself, have businesses and also personally connected to someone close that is dealing with an IEP need.
She said many people are not aware of all of the services offered by the Regional Centers.
“We give that background, some of the legislation around and how we can work on policy change,” she said. “There is a disparity. We are educating and raising awareness on how we can close that gap.”
RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or call, 323.338.9161