Special-needs classes under way

How do you know whether your child’s behavior is normal teenage rebellion or something more serious? And if it is something more, what resources are available to you?

Those questions are the focus of a new series of parenting classes designed to assist families with special-needs children that kicked off this week at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA.

“It came about because we have offered a variety of parenting classes in the past for more normal kids, and then realized that there were parents that had additional challenges with raising kids with special needs,” said Ana-Marie Schaefer, fitness director at the YMCA.

The free series, which takes place 7 p.m. Thursdays through Nov. 3, will include presentations by several local mental health experts such as Dr. Skip Baker and Dr. Peter Gero. Topics that will be covered include attention deficit disorder, personality disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and eating disorders, among others.

The classes will also touch on the effects that a special-needs child can have on marriages and siblings. While the series will follow a lecture format, there will be time allotted for questions, organizers said.

“We have found that people usually find that when someone has a question, other people have been through it,” Schaefer said. “You get a little dialogue going.”

The series was introduced last year with the help of Kimberlie Zakarian, a Montrose-based therapist who specializes in psychological disorders and early childhood trauma and is the mother of a special-needs teenager.

Parents of children with mental health issues often feel embarrassed or isolated by their struggles, Zakarian said. Many have no idea how to tap resources within the public school district and the county health system that can benefit their child.

The classes will help parents recognize the difference between normal childhood behavior and behavior that may indicate a child has a mental illness, Zakarian said.

They will also serve to connect families who are facing similar issues.

“It is embarrassing, but then you come into a group like this … there is a sense of community,” Zakarian said.

The second in the six-part series will take place 7 p.m. Oct. 6 and will provide coping tools for the parents of children with hyperactive disorders.

For more information, contact Ana-Marie Schaefer at (818) 790-0123 x231.

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