Nearly 60 local families attended a conference aimed at providing resources and information for parents of children with autism on Saturday afternoon in the College of the Canyons gymnasium.
“We’re having a conference called ‘A Transition Odyssey,’” said event organizer Lupe Ibarra-Smith. “It’s (for) college or career bound children with special needs.”
Parents were able to attend a keynote address and two break-out panel discussions, during which time they were able to pose questions to a number of professionals that ranged from UCLA Medical School professors to Hart District special needs coordinators.
“This is the kind of conference so parents can ask those questions and feel that they connected with someone else, that we’re all in the same path,” said Ibarra-Smith.
Ibarra-Smith came as part of the Jewels for Youth (JOY) foundation’s delegation. The nonprofit provides parents of special needs children with the knowledge and the faculties to ensure that they receive the best possible care.
“That’s the biggest thing here, learning how to educate the parents and how to advocate for our children,” she said. “JOY foundation is just to help parents learn how to advocate for children and how to empower them on how to help.”
Advocacy, says Ibarra-Smith, is crucial.
“When my children were diagnosed (with autism) the doctor told me they may never be able to speak, to go to a typical setting class, and that was really hard for me,” she said.
But Ibarra-Smith did not let adversity deter her from advocating for her children. She did research, lots of it, and began to discover effective programs and classes that would help her children thrive.
“Now my children are in typical setting classrooms, speaking, and they’re 4.0 students,” she said.
Saturday, said Ibarra-Smith, was a prime opportunity for parents to discover the resources the Santa Clarita and Greater Los Angeles communities have to offer and to realize that they are not alone in the struggle of raising children with disabilities.
“The main thing I always say to my children, and I have two children with autism,” she said, “ (is that) we’re all different but the same.”
“We might seem different, but we’re the same.”