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Workshop helps parents create their own success stories

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Spotlight

When you're a parent, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.

But when you're the parent of a child with special needs, it can often feel like you're completely alone. There's no limit, it can seem, to the amount of information you want to find to affirm others are experiencing the same thing.

parent and child

Which is why parents like Keena McCurn, an Atlanta resident, was one of more than two dozen parents taking part in a recent daylong workshop sponsored by the Georgia Sensory Assistance Project, an outreach service of the University of Georgia College of Education. The event, which took place in the Tate Student Center on the UGA campus, gave parents a chance to learn from others and hear success stories. At the same time, their children filled the day with games, discussions and other activities.

"It's definitely helped with our transition into the school system, and helped people understand (my daughter's) communication style, and how to communicate with her," said McCurn as she pasted stickers into a "Take a Look at Me" portfolio about her daughter. "It's always good to hear others' stories of success. When you're in this position, you can't always see the forest for the trees."

The Georgia Sensory Assistance Project is a statewide program that provides technical assistance to schools and families who have children with deaf-blindness. Funded through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, the program reaches across the state and is housed at the College of Education.

The recent workshop included a keynote address from Tom Zarzaca, a Gwinnett County parent and author of "Tomi's Time." The book chronicles his son's battle with bacterial meningitis when he was 9 months old, leaving him deaf and blind. Following Zarzaca, parents joined together for a roundtable discussion of family issues, made sensory-adapted books for their kids and had a chance to meet parents from around the state.

Tomi's Time author

Kids at the workshop took part in sensory exploration through crafts, music, games and other activities, with help from students in the College of Education's communication sciences and special education department. Siblings without special needs had their own "Sibshop," where they played games, made arts and crafts, and took part in discussions about family issues.

McCurn also came to the workshop as part of a parent peer group for families of children with disabilities. The day's activities allowed her to bond with others in the group, and gave them a larger perspective to bring back home and share with others.

Fellow mother Alexa Burtley said as a work-from-home mom, she often feels like she's not doing enough to help her son — and yet, she's at a loss as to what she should be doing. That's where the Georgia Sensory Assistance Project steps in, and after a few hours of hearing others' stories she already felt more confident.

"I came here to learn more. My child is not in the school phase yet, but I don't know how to reach him," she said. "Today has shed some light in this dark tunnel."

children doing a project

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