Special needs families create community with new group

Psychologist’s forum helps Medford parents give input on education

In a time when we’re often logged in, it’s harder to really connect.

For Medford’s special needs students and families, that means fewer  opportunities to find resources, learn and meet others with similar needs.

School psychologist Stephanie Csakan found a solution: She set a date and time and brought families together. Her group, Medford Area Special Needs Parents and Families, met on Zoom for the first time last month.

“Unless you’re in the field, it’s hard to know the ins and outs and the law and suggestions for children at home,” Csakan said. “I noticed that there is a lack of awareness for that, so I offered to run a monthly meeting where we could discuss these matters.”

During the pandemic, special needs students have had to adjust, whether they’re learning online or in person. Many remote students who would usually have physical therapy, speech classes and other aid in school now have the opportunity to transition to private resources.

“A lot of these different organizations are functioning differently,” Csakan explained. “So having discussions on which places are good, which ones have you heard of, which ones offer in person and which ones are virtual. 

“So by talking and sharing, it helps parents be able to get their child what they need.”

New Jersey requires each school district to have a Special Education Parent Advisory Group, where parents meet and have input on their child’s education. Csakan said the pandemic has limited those meetings in Medford and when they were held, had few opportunities for parents to share resources.

“They don’t run in a very collaborative, peer-friendly format,” Csakan noted. “There’s not a lot of room for open discussion.”

The group acts as an open forum for parents now, but eventually Csakan wants to invite school administrators and decision makers to hear from families directly.

“I’d like to just form a community group of parents and families, because there’s confidentiality, and I want them to feel comfortable helping contribute a list of possible needs before we invite administrators and staff,” she said.

In her work as a school psychologist, Csakan saw firsthand how input from families improved education for her students.

“One way to build a stronger community is by having parents involved,” Csakan explained. “Nobody knows the child better than parents, right?”

The next meeting will take place on Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. If parents/families are not able to attend this event, they can receive follow-up information about the event on the Facebook page Families With Special Needs — Medford 08055 area.