Several school principals and parents from different parts of the island gathered at the 2019 Annual PACE Symposium for the purpose of getting ideas and learning more about how to help their children with special needs. Speakers and panelists emphasized teaching children with special needs requires love, understanding how to support them and involvement in their education.
Held at the School of Education on the morning of Sept. 21, Education and Training Manager of Leadership in Disabilities and Achievement of Hawaii (LDAH) Beverly Reidy said the purpose of the workshop is to help parents learn more and empower them to make a difference for their children.
“We know children whose parents are engaged in their education will be more successful in school. We want parents to work as partners in school to form a team so that we can help children in the most efficient way.”
Barbara Hong, a professor of special education at BYU–Hawaii, also said, “Teachers might not have all the answers, but we can work together with the family to get the [best outcome] for kids.”
PACE began with a breakfast in the morning followed by a short welcoming from Beverly Reidy and Dr. Karen Latham, dean of education and social work. After the opening remarks, parents and school principals were able to attend two out of the four sessions offered between 9 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.
During the four sessions, the attendees had the opportunity to learn how to empower their children with special needs by learning more about how to overcome hurdles that may challenge them. The instruction in the sessions included insights into certain supreme court cases, information and misconceptions regarding autism, how to prepare children for public school and a family panel.
Hong presented the topic of defining what autism is and what it is not. Regarding that topic, Justin Meilgaard, a parent from Manoa, said he learned from Hong that autism was one category of many similar conditions. He commented on how the best way to support a child is to understand their baseline condition so parents can proceed with the most supportive approach.
Meilgaard also shared he learned from other parents how to redirect children when they are being self-destructive and unable to control themselves. Meilgaard gave an example: Instead of stopping them, parents just have to find another way to redirect their focus. If they want to destroy the table, parents can get them a cardboard box to fulfill their needs.
One of the sessions offered in the second block was a family panel featuring the Wolfersberger Family and the Hafoka Family. Both families answered questions from the audience and presented personal experiences, which led the session to be filled with tears and laughter. Both families were able to share their journey of raising children with special needs.
Rebecca Wolfersberger, a mother of a special needs child, said raising a child with special needs has been a wonderful growth experience for her and her family. She said it is “a great thing that we came to earth to help others become better. We, [ourselves], become better as we help those in need.”
At the end of the symposium, a documentary was played to show how successful parents and their special needs children can be with the right support. Afterward, Principal Kaitoku, the keynote speaker from Hauula Elementary School, encouraged parents “to create change and be the change” their children need.
Similarly, Reidy said as BYUH students who are taught to go forth to serve, we need to offer help to those who are struggling. “Students on campus who have a disability can be either visible or invisible. It is important to be willing to help and take the time to care about the people around us. It is such a gift to do things for others.”
Reidy explained the PACE program encourages parents to be an advocate and speak up for what is right for their children, and to call for help when it is needed.