Parents explore frustrations of disability

A group of parents of children with special needs experienced frustration firsthand on Saturday when they were asked to perform a series of exercises designed to test their visual perceptions and thought processes.

The word “Red” was printed in blue, and when parents were asked to say the color's name, they shouted “blue.” But they were supposed to say “red.” The exercise was designed to acquaint parents with the frustration and processing difficulties experienced by their special-needs children.

Psychologists created the exercise to demonstrate some of the challenges that children with special needs must endure when attempting to process information, said Cathy Fickas, director of the Los Angeles Learning Disabilities Assn.

“Kids with learning disabilities have processing problems, not intelligence problems,” she said at the seventh annual “No Limit to Success” conference for parents and teachers of children with special needs.

Flickas' presentation at Burbank High School was one of several lectures at the Foothill Special Education Local Plan Area's conference, which focused on developing a parent's comprehension and skills in caring for children with special needs.

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) urged parents and educators at the conference to make suggestions on how to allocate $420 million in mental health funding to support people with disabilities.

“It's about all of us working together, collaborating, communicating and getting ourselves together to be able to deliver services that our children really need,” Liu said.

During the conference, parents broke out into 12 sessions on a variety of special-education issues, including learning disabilities, understanding their legal rights, autism, assistive technology and behavior management.

“When people say, ‘We are there for you, we understand,' nobody knows like you, because you have those kids and you live with those kids, and we know the struggles that we go through,” said Corky O'Rourke, who has 13-year-old nonverbal son with autism. O'Rourke is a teacher of special assignments and special projects at College View School in Glendale.

Krista Smiley knows the struggles of living with a learning disability all too well.

Smiley, who was a presenter at the conference, has a severe disability, as does her son.

But her disability never stopped her from pursing education and standing out, she said.

Smiley, who oversees numerous workers as a plant manager at Glendale High School, uses new assistive technology, including a voice-to-word program to create documents, to help her excel at work, she said.

“Having a learning disability has really never stopped me from doing anything,” she told parents.

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