Local Agency Advocates for Students with Special Needs
Owasso mom Julie Lackey credits TARC’s Family Support Coordinator Sherilyn Walton for steering her and her son Jacob through the maze of special needs education in school.
“Jacob was having a frustrating first grade year and I expressed this to his speech pathologist,” Julie said, whose son is now a freshman in high school. “She gave me Sherilyn’s name. I called her and to my surprise she came all the way to our house in Owasso to spend time with my husband and me and Jacob. She got to know us and got a feel for what issues we were dealing with at school.”
Walton, a licensed clinical social worker and former special needs educator, remains an integral part of Jacob’s educational team. When Lackey has a question about the ins and outs of Individual Education Plans (IEP’s), Walton is a phone call away.
TARC, a partner agency with Tulsa United Way, advocates for the rights of citizens with developmental disabilities to ensure they have a high quality of life.
Last year Walton assisted over 200 families of children with developmental disabilities and on an IEP by attending meetings on the family’s behalf with the child’s teachers and school administrators.
“My goal is to insure the family, child and teachers are able to work as a cohesive unit in the best interest of the student,” Walton said. “I go to the family, the school or wherever I am needed. I go in to a meeting representing the parent, but most importantly I listen and try to understand all sides. I try to help everyone talk it out and normalize the situation.”
Walton receives referrals from current TARC families, teachers and school administrators, physicians and speech pathologists. The vast majority of parents she assists have children with Asperger’s syndrome or autism, ranging in age from preschool through high school.
“I usually start by talking with the family on the phone,” Walton said. “Many times I will go to their house to meet them, their child and get to know them and begin to understand what is going on at school. Parents want to know if their child is in the right environment and learning positive social emotional behavior. I always like to have a copy of the child’s IEP before we meet with the school.”
Walton and Jacob’s parents have helped pave the way for him to have a positive experience at school.
“I admit I had a lack of understanding on how to deal with Jacob’s diagnosis and what that entailed,” Julie said. “The first meeting we all attended at school set up some groundwork to help us all understand Jacob and his needs. My husband and I began to understand what the school wants from us and what they can do for Jacob. The Owasso School District has been a nice environment for Jacob.”
Walton brings years of experience to the meetings and has a clear understanding of the services that families are legally entitled to receive.
“Sherilyn knows the law when it comes to special needs and disabilities,” Julie said. “She knows what an IEP should do for a child and she knows school administrators in all the school districts. She sees the school’s perspective and yours. Most importantly Sherilyn talks to you and helps you remove the emotion and look at what is best for your child.”
TARC has a parents group that meets the last Thursday of each month in the evening.
“It has become a big group,” Walton said. “And we are seeing more and more dads at the group. Our parents are able to be a resource and support for each other.”
TARC also has a multi-age “Kids Connection” group that meets each month to give kids with high functioning autism and Asperger’s an opportunity to socialize.
Visit the TARC website for more information at www.ddadvocacy.net or call 918-582-8272.