Oklahoma Parents Center is Just a Phone Call Away
Oklahoma Parents Center offers free training and information for families with children with disabilities.
Sharon Coppedge Long, the executive director of Oklahoma Parents Center, has stood in the shoes of many of the families she serves. Her son Jordan was about four years old when Long was told he was intellectually disabled and should be institutionalized. Long didn’t heed that advice. Today, Jordan is a thriving adult, and Long spends many of her days telling parents what she wishes someone would have told her: “It’s going to be okay.”
Funded by the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs and Oklahoma State Department of Education, the Oklahoma Parents Center exists to “educate and support parents, families and professionals in building partnerships that meet the needs of children and youth with the full range of disabilities ages birth to 26,” their website explains. The Oklahoma Parents Center offers a toll-free parent information line, individual assistance with educational issues, and parent education workshops on topics like writing an effective IEP (individualized education plan), basic rights in special education, effective communication skills and transition to adulthood.
When Long’s son was still a toddler, she was paying $600 a month and making two out-of-town trips each week for him to get the speech and language help he needed. One day, a representative at the Health Department location where Jordan was receiving services handed Long a card and said, “You need to call these people.” The card connected Long to what is now the Oklahoma Parents Center, and she learned her son should have been receiving free support.
“I’ve been that desperate momma who wants someone to talk to who will help me understand my rights,” Long says. “I didn’t know anything about special education, and they helped me.”
Oklahoma Parents Center does helps families understand their rights by law, including those outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“Most of the parents we talk to really don’t understand the accommodations that public schools are required to provide if there is an IEP,” says Amy Synar, Tulsa County representative and information and training specialist at the Oklahoma Parents Center. “Parents need to, because they know their child best, be able to advocate for them.”
Synar understands firsthand the questions and concerns many families have. After earning her master’s degree, she returned to the University of Oklahoma for classes to work toward being a licensed professional counselor.
“One of the classes was really heavy in statistics, and I knew right away, oh boy, this is making me nervous,” Synar says.
There was a section on the back of the syllabus encouraging students to call a phone number if they needed accommodations for the class. Synar says her fear of failure regarding math prompted her to make the call. She met with an educational psychologist who conducted a series of educational testing.
“Three hours later after a battery of tests and [after] three to four weeks of waiting on the report, I had my own IEP at 43 years old, and it showed I had five different learning disabilities,” Synar says.
Although the findings were initially difficult for Synar to process and accept, she says she feels “so much stronger now” and is using her experiences to help others.
“I think a lot of parents are fearful of what the repercussions are for a child who may have a learning disability – will their friend base change, will they be removed from a classroom because they need special services?,” Synar says. “The life they had dreamt of seems to be changing. Then there are a lot of families who are prepared and are ready to accept the change in their family and are willing and able to affect change for their child because they know them best and want to see them succeed.”
Both Synar and Long stress that above all, they want families to not hesitate to call when questions or situations arise. The Oklahoma Parents Center can be reached toll free at 877-553-4332. Long says they field about 10,000 calls a year, talking with many parents about behavior issues and understanding the basic laws that protect students with disabilities.
“My mantra for a long time has been that we’re not pro-parent, we’re not pro-school, but we are definitely 1,000-percent pro-child,” Long says.
About the Oklahoma Parents Center
Our goal is to educate and support parents, families and professionals in building partnerships that meet the needs of children and youth with the full range of disabilities ages’ birth to 26.
Who should call the Oklahoma Parents Center?
- Parents of children with disabilities, or suspected disabilities age birth to 26;
- Parents of children with emotional or behavioral problems age birth to 26;
- Youth with disabilities age 18 to 26; and
- Professionals in educational, medical, or human service fields.
Toll Free: 877-553-4332
– from oklahomaparentscenter.org