Baltimore school puts resources, parents of special needs children in one place

An area school catering to students with disabilities is stepping up to fill a need.

St. Elizabeth School in Baltimore serves students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, intellectual disability, traumatic brain injury and other special needs or disabilities. The school extends from ages 6 to 21 with students receiving either a high school diploma or certificate of completion.

“We’re a school for children with special needs, but even though we’re [only] a school we get a lot of calls from parents looking for resources,” St. Elizabeth development director Kristin O’Ferrall said.

It became clear to O’Ferrall and others at the school that it was important to bring pertinent agencies, available resources and parents of children with disabilities together in one place.

“We just felt there was such a need in the community,” O’Ferrall said.

To fill that need, St. Elizabeth began organizing a resource fair.

“We thought why not put everyone together under one roof so the families and resources are in one place,” O’Ferrall said.

The fair, which is scheduled for April 5, will feature 50 exhibitors including representatives from camps, Special Olympics, dentists who cater to children with special needs, those who provide assisted technology for nonverbal students, work programs, adult residential facilities and even state agencies who provide different services to those with special needs.

Parents of students at the school agree that the fair fills a big need. They hope it becomes a regular event.

“It’s very challenging when it’s not all in one location, because first of all you don’t always know all what your child might need. Having it all in one place helps you cover all of your bases at once,” Britonya Jackson said.

Jackson’s son, 21-year-old Kurwin B Simmons II, will graduate this year after 10 years at St. Elizabeth. She said the school was a god-send for her child, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury, and this fair is just another example of the school going above and beyond for students like her son.

“There tends to be a lot of resources for children for autism, but when your child has traumatic brain injury, it’s a completely different thing,” Jackson said.

The fair will offer services and resources for youth on the autism spectrum scale and those with traumatic brain injury.

“It is Autism Awareness Month in April so that timing works, but this is for children and young adults with any type of disability,” O’Ferrall said.

Jeff Richardson, whose 17-year-old son Brooks is on the autism spectrum, says he is grateful St. Elizabeth is taking the lead on bringing resources and parents together.

“Having all of this in one place, having it in a way that can make our jobs as parents easier in terms of getting all the info at one location, it really helps,” Richardson said, later adding, “It’s one thing when you’re looking at a website or a pamphlet or seeing it somewhere, but it’s another thing to talk to a parent who has resources who have been so immensely helpful.”

Richardson said there may be generalized disability fairs, but this one will cater more to children like his and Jackson’s.

“It’s targeting a group of consumers and services that is growing, having a fair that is specifically focused on their needs is very rare,” Richardson said.

A report released by the CDC Thursday estimates 1 in 68 children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder -- this indicates a 30 percent increase in children with autism or a related disorder.

In Maryland estimates are higher than the national average of areas tracked with 1 in 60 children identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to the CDC .

Richardson said that bringing together parents who are all dealing with similar challenges is also a great help. For him, getting information on how to plan for what comes after high school and after a guardian’s death are among  the biggest benefits to the fair.

“For most parents, the day their child graduates high school, it’s one of the most exciting days of their lives; for parents of a child with a significant disability, it’s one of the scariest,” Richardson said.

The resource fair will take place April 5 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at St. Elizabeth School located at 801 Argonne Drive in Baltimore. The fair is open to the public, not just parents of St. Elizabeth School students.

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