Having spent the last 26 years in education, Jennifer Krumins, MEd, knows a thing or two about IEPs. This year, she traveled from Canada to share the importance of IEPs and some key takeaways for parents with children on the spectrum.
Jennifer, thank you so much for being a part of the conference again this year. Why are you so passionate about talking to parents about the power of IEPs?
Oh boy, what a question. Well I started my workshop by saying I’ve spent my career in education and have experience as a parent – I hate IEPs, I really do. I hate writing them! But yet, that being said, they are so incredibly important! They give direction to a person’s life. Without an IEP, time will pass, opportunities will pass, and we don’t have a sense of what we could be doing to capitalize on moments when a kid can learn. For me, an IEP keeps you focused and ready to teach at any given moment because you know where you want to go.
If you could pass one important point from your session on to someone who could not at the conference, what would it be?
A big message I wanted to give today is that parents play such an incredibly important role. It’s imperative parents take an active role in their child’s education, particularly if that child had special needs because it’s not up to the school; it is a joint responsibility. I have learned in my years as a parent and an educator that autism requires a village around a child. No one person has all the information about that child so when everyone comes together and shares their perspective, we get the whole picture. As far as a takeaway about the conference, I would want to say that coming to this conference gives you a chance to step away from the day-to-day and it is time so wisely invested. It energizes and refreshes you. Well you’ll always go home tired, but you come home ready to dive in with a renewed energy.
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Two years ago, Hickman and Lowder Co., L.P.A came to Milestones with a simple concept. They wanted to create a space at our annual conference for caregivers to relax and get some special treatment they don’t get in their everyday lives.
Milestones was sold. With so many parents and professionals taking some time out from life to attend the conference, we knew such an addition would be well-received and much needed. So a conversation turned into a plan, which then evolved into what we now all know to be the Caregiver Relaxation Room.
This year, caregivers of all kinds were encouraged to visit the space conveniently located between the exhibit hall and workshop rooms, where they could get a massage from a masseuse, make their own bath salts, and indulge in cucumber water while they enjoy a moment for themselve
“We’re all caregivers whether you have a child with autism or a professional, you’re a caregiver in some way,” said Jill Fowler of Hickman and Lowder. “It is important for our firm to be able to provide a place for conference goers of any kind to have some respite and take care of themselves a little bit. Usually you are the last person you care for so it was important for us to have a place for them to pamper themselves a bit.”
In addition to providing the Caregiver Relaxation Room, Hickman and Lowder was one of over 50 exhibitors at this year’s conference.
“It’s a fabulous mix of families and professionals and different tracks and topics,” said Fowler. “There is something for everyone here, it’s so valuable. Everyone you talk to they either know people or they meet new friends here and they can see each other again and again year after year. We are fortunate to have this in our community.”
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You did it, you made it through the conference! We hope you had an amazing time and left with new, practical strategies to support you in your everyday life. Now that you have all this new information and an arsenal of great ideas, you may now be struggling with how to even begin implementing it all. This is normal, don’t worry. The key is to take a short breather (very important, you deserve it), then dive in with the following five objectives:
Identify Key Takeaways
Hopefully you were able to attend all of the sessions you had hoped to. A lot of the information may have been new. While it is still fresh in your mind, write down a list of the top five most important things you learned at the conference. Maybe you learned that you can ask your child’s school to include a new type of goal on their IEP or perhaps you’re professional who learned about a technique you may wish to include in your practice – jot these new lessons down in one place so you can reflect upon them when needed.
Prioritize Your Goals
Out of all of the strategies you learned at the 2018 Milestones National Autism Conference, what should you use first? You may have a lot of different things that you wish to work on. For example, you may be a self-advocate who wants to get a date, a job, and to apply for certain benefits. How would you rank these in order of importance? Maybe you think a job is the most important to you right now so that you can afford to take a date out for coffee. Reflecting on your priorities and identifying one or two things to work on at a time can make things much more manageable.
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One highlight of our conference each year is our Straight from the Source series, a grouping of panels featuring individuals with autism and those closest to them. This year, we held an Autism at Work panel, a session for adults on the spectrum to share their experiences of joining and being a part of the workforce. During this panel, attendees got to meet Evan Spencer, Amy Kleinman, Angel Russo, and Tim Hughes, self-advocates with a variety of perspectives gained from employment. Evan, Amy, Angel, and Tim were kind enough to sit down with Milestones after their panel to share a little bit about the topics discussed and why they wanted to get involved.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to us today! Would you mind telling us how you first heard of Milestones?
Evan: My mom runs a support group that works closely with Milestones. I came my first year to the conference kind
of nervous, to see what was here for myself. I always thought it would be people my mom’s age who are working for individuals with autism, but then I saw it was also for individuals and that’s what sold me on coming back.
Amy: I’ve known about Milestones for I don’t know how many years. My mother and I had talked about coming to the conference for years; we have gone to Beth Thompson for some
help when we needed it. And finally last year, we were just like ‘you know what, we’re going to get scholarshipped and we’re going to go!’ Then this year, Beth asked me to speak, so we’re here again. And hopefully next year too!
Angel: Haley Dunn who is with Milestones, I knew her for a long time so she asked me to come speak.
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Couldn’t come to the conference? No worries, we’ll fill you in. Four of Milestones’ own presented at the conference this year on a variety of topics:
Milestones Administrative Assistant and self-advocate Molly D. Dann, presented two workshops, one with the Cuyahoga County’s Good Life Ambassadors program where safety in the community was discussed, and another sensory-focused workshop with two other self-advocates wherein panelists shared their personal experiences coping with sensory issues.
Beth Thompson, Program Director, did a conversational session with Carl Brass, Executive Director of Monarch LifeWorks, on how to make ethical decisions when working with adults on the autism spectrum. They discussed when how federal rulings like the Olmstead Act impact providers when weighing decisions about protecting the adults they serve and letting them have their own autonomy in decision-making.
Milestones Early Intervention/School Age Coordinator Nathan Morgan did a total of three workshops! He started the conference out with a session sharing tips and suggestions for families to follow after receiving a new diagnosis of autism – Nathan reviewed common evidence-based therapies, how to access them, and how to work with school districts. Nathan then served as a moderator on the Straight from the Source: Autism at Work panel, where he led a discussion with four other adults with ASD about their path to employment. Nathan and Molly then closed the conference with another staff advocate and Milestones volunteer, Grace Blatt, where they shared their practical strategies for dealing with common sensory issues.
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