MERIDEN — While high school graduation can be a time of adjustment for any family, it poses specific challenges for families of students with special needs. The fifth annual transition expo helped those families prepare for the challenges ahead.
The expo, held at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel, brought a host of state, college, and career services under one roof to help parents navigate the next steps for their students.
“For parents, this is crucial. We need to know what our rights are, and what’s out there to help,” said Cindy Drost, whose son, Eric, 18, will soon graduate from the Cheshire school system.
Deborah Kohan, transition coordinator for the Meriden school system, said the expo has quickly become the biggest in the state in the five years since it began.
This year the expo had booths from more than 40 agencies, including ARC of Meriden-Wallingford, local probate courts, the state Department of Developmental Services, and the developmental disabilities education department at the University of Connecticut.
A probate judge answered questions about the process of petitioning for legal guardianship, and representatives from the Hamden Transition Authority helped figure out transportation logistics.
“It’s never too early to start planning for the future, especially during this important time of transition,” Kohan said. “It’s stressful for families, who are used to have a school system that’s so supportive.”
Members of the Midstate Chamber of Commerce also attended the expo as a way to extend collaboration into the community.
“We want to let people know that this transition can be a transition into business,” chamber President Sean Moore said.
Karen Carson, program manager at Southeastern Employment Services, said business owners often don’t realize that accommodations needed to employ someone with intellectual or physical disabilities are taken care of by federal and state agencies.
“There’s no type of adaptation that employers need to pay for,” Carson said, “and we feel employers are getting a great deal because these are people who really want to work.”
One parent expressed a feeling of bewilderment before the expo, saying that she was looking for more guidance about where to start once her son graduates.
“We try to make sure that this is individualized as much as it can be, and student-driven,” Kohan said, “because a lot of parents feel that worry when their child is about to leave the school system.”
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