Special needs children have unique abilities and unique challenges, so parents must become highly attuned experts, ready to handle any issue.
At times, the responsibility can feel overwhelming, but free support is available. With offices in Long Beach and Torrance, the Harbor Regional Center (HRC) offers individualized assistance in dealing with schools and government programs. The HRC team can also be a valuable partner as clients navigate the daunting transition from childhood to adulthood.
On Thursday, Oct. 17, HRC hosted a transition event at its Long Beach site, 1155 E. San Antonio Drive. With a plethora of speakers, specialists, and resource tables, the four-hour program was designed to share options and encourage families to prepare for the future.
Nancy Spiegel, HRC director of Information and Development, said clients and their families face unknown territory as they contemplate life after high school. A transition event offers information about post-secondary education, employment preparation, adult day activities, and independent and supported living opportunities.
“We provide reassurance that services and supports do not end when they (clients) leave the school system,” Spiegel said. “They will have continuing support from the regional center for long-term service planning.”
The Diaz family attended the event and spoke about their son’s successful transition. 22-year-old Ian Diaz was diagnosed with autism at 18 months. Ian’s father, Brown Diaz, described the family’s rough ride, full of tears and maddening moments, as they worked to understand young Ian and his needs. Now, however, Ian is happily placed with Cole Vocational Services. Brown Diaz credits HRC and Ian’s coordinator, Steve Campos, with endless assistance and care throughout Ian’s life.
“At first, I was skeptical and didn’t know how they could help us, but they took us by the hand and guided us through every step,” Brown Diaz said. “There were roadblocks and setbacks, but I learned to relax and be patient. Steve has become a trusted friend. He is truly a godsend.”
After hearing the HRC transition presentation, parents and their children visited tables and consulted with representatives from various organizations. Attendees gathered brochures and information about sites like ICAN, Ability First, David’s Place, and Dungarvin. Others spoke to school district representatives and explored the programs presented by Boo2Bullying, an organization whose programs promote education, understanding, and empathy. October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
The mission of HRC is to provide “quality services, support, information and choices for people with developmental disabilities and their families, to promote their participation as valued neighbors in our communities.” HRC coordinates service for children of all ages. Currently, 15,000 clients receive free support, according to Harbor Regional Client Services Manager Bjoern Petersen.
“We go to the family’s home to interview and assess needs,” Petersen said. “We help them explore insurance coverage, assist with issues at school, and even help coordinate respite services so that caregivers can have some much-needed time off.”
Petersen said that HRC also works to remove a family’s anxiety and fear as their loved ones approach adulthood. A transition plan, he said, helps the family anticipate and plan for change in a thoughtful manner. According to Brown Diaz, transition planning is extremely valuable.
“Ian’s coordinator, Steve Campos, prepared my wife and I way before the actual transition transpired. He counseled us on what to expect,” Brown Diaz said. “Ian is so delighted with his placement… We would not have gotten here without the guidance and help of Harbor Regional Center.’”
For information on Harbor Regional Center services, go to www.harborrc.org.