Amanda Day of Bowling Green says she has faced challenges while ensuring her son receives the school support he requires as a special needs student.

But after attending the Parent Special Education Training Camp on Saturday at Hillvue Heights Church, she feels much more confident that she can show educators the specific law they must follow to give her son the special services he needs at school.

"This gives me a little bit more parent power," she said.

Day was one of a couple dozen participants in the camp, which aimed to empower attendees to advocate for special needs children in their lives, said Stella Beard, parent coordinator for The Arc of Kentucky, a grassroots organization that advocates for the rights and full participation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The event focused on the education rights of special needs children and how parents can work with educators to create an Individualized Education Program for their special needs child. An IEP is developed for each special needs child and acts as a roadmap for the support and services the student receives at school.

"Our goal is to give them the tools and resources they need ... so that when they do go to these (IEP) meetings, they're prepared," Beard said.

In addition to The Arc of Kentucky, the event was sponsored by Kentucky Protection & Advocacy, an independent state agency that protects and promotes the rights of Kentuckians with disabilities; and Kentucky Special Parent Involvement Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting programs that will enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families. All three organizations bring different knowledge to the table, but since all are focused on helping people with disabilities, it made sense to pool their expertise together for the camp, Beard said.

"It's good to be able to bring all that together and work as a team," she said.

Finding out about the resources and information available for special needs children was an eye-opener for Judy Wolfe of Barren County.

"It's overwhelming to me," she said. "There's just so much information to take in. There's so many things out there to assist you that I didn't even know about."

She's a foster parent and wants to be prepared if she takes in a special needs child.

"You don't know what they've been through," Wolfe said. "You're just going to have to basically learn as you go."

The information about IEPs was a great help for Marie Hargis of Bowling Green, who has a daughter with special needs.

"I've been so lost for several years on this IEP stuff," she said. "Now I'll be prepared. Now I know what I'm supposed to be getting out of IEP."

The camp also gave parents a chance to connect with one another and share their experiences advocating for their children with special needs. Networking with others who are going through the same things is just as important as the information they learned during the event, Day said. 

"We realize we're not alone," she said.

— Laurel Wilson covers faith and general assignments. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FaithinBG or visit bgdailynews.com.

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