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Sewickley opens arms wider for special-needs children


As the parent of a 10-year-old son who has autism and an 8-year-old daughter who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, Christina Meditch of Bell Acres is no stranger to the struggles of parents of children with special needs.

That's why she started a special-needs support group, St. Stephen's Star Parents, about two years ago, she said.

“Ever since my son was diagnosed when he was 3 going on 4, I had no one to turn to,” she said.

“It is hard when you get the diagnosis for your child. What is tougher yet are the steps you have to go through to get them the help they need. I had no support. I read everything I could, plus I went to a counselor to talk about the hard times.”

After speaking with Jennifer Diemert of Glen Osborne — who, she said, has a “vast knowledge” on the subject — the two women started the group so that parents or caregivers could have a place to feel comfortable talking with others who “have been through it.” The idea was that participants wouldn't be judged or told what they should be doing and that they could vent their frustrations and talk about happy moments in their children's lives.

“We only offer suggestions if the member is seeking them,” she said.

Free child care is provided for the 10 members in the group, who have children with special needs ranging in age from 4 to 22.

“We would like to see more. I know there are families out in our community that could benefit from our group,” Meditch said

Some topics discussed have included speech therapy; individual education programs, or IEPs; financial planning for a child with special needs; and chiropractic care with Dr. James McFadden of Sewickley.

Anna Conley of Edgeworth, hired part-time by the church to put together a new special-needs ministry, will attend and help with the group.

Conley said other topics will be led by representatives of Verbal Beginnings, a home-based applied behavioral analysis group offered throughout the Pittsburgh area, and the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, or PaTTAN Autism Initiative, a project funded through the state Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education. She said the PaTTAN representative has extensive experience in the classroom and now works to help educators throughout the state better meet the needs of children on the autism spectrum.

Members will choose a book to read and discuss for the spring, talk about planning summer activities and how parents help shape their children's stories, receive weekly encouragement emails to keep communication consistent, and receive resources and help with research on topics specific to their child.

“We understand the child's behavior, and we understand what steps need to be taken,” Meditch said. “No one should walk this walk alone.”

— Joanne Barron

To participate

What: St. Stephen's Star Parents support group

Where: St. Stephen's Church, 405 Frederick Ave., Sewickley

When: 7 to 8 p.m. last Tuesday of the month, next one to be held Feb. 25

Information: St. Stephen's Church, 412-741-1790.

By Joanne Barron
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

St. Stephen's Church parishioners always have welcomed members with special needs and their families with open arms, but with a new program in place, those arms are opening a little wider.

Working with funds from a private grant, the 1,200-member Anglican church in Sewickley has been able to buy an iPad, on which children with special needs can learn Bible lessons and play games while their parents are worshipping, said Robin Billings, of Edgeworth, children's ministry director.

Children can use the new iPad when they meet with their mentors in the church's special-needs classroom during services. Billings said with the new equipment, that time becomes a learning experience, and the children can better be included in church programming.

“So, it's not just baby-sitting,” Billings said.

The funds will be used to offer a night out for parents of children with special needs every three months. Qualified sitters will watch children so parents can go out.

Recruiting and training mentors for children with special needs also is part of the ministry, organized with help from church member Anna Conley of Edgeworth, who has an extensive background in teaching children with special needs and was hired part-time at the beginning of the year.

Elementary school and preschool children meet in groups during the two adult worship times and once in between on Sundays. Among them are children with more mild special needs, who, Billings said, do fine but could benefit from a mentor during the meetings.

Conley said there are about seven of those children and two children who need individualized care and have their own classroom. She said anyone who is interested in volunteering can contact her at the church at 412-741-1790.

All mentors will get together with Conley to receive training individualized to each child at the church and for the church's summer camp.

Conley said the goal is to have children participate in whatever way they can with the church.

In the music portion of the children's program, students from the special-needs classroom can listen and see the other children singing. Conley said they are working to integrate them gradually into that portion of the program.

Billings' son, Josh, has been mentoring a child for about two years, and Conley is mentoring a child who was adopted from Haiti by a local family.

At first, parents stayed with the child and did activities with him as the child got used to Conley and the environment.

The parents would leave for a few minutes at a time until gradually, the child was comfortable just working with Conley, and the parents could go to their own church service.

“It has been neat to see him go from being nervous and anxious to greeting me with a big smile every Sunday. The 30 minutes I spend with my ‘buddy' are some of my favorite moments each week,” she said.

Christina Meditch of Bell Acres, who runs a special-needs support group at the church and is a parent to two children with special needs, said St. Stephen's members love her children, and her children love them.

She is hoping to find a male mentor for her son.

“My kids participate where they can, and the staff at the church is always encouraging and supportive,” she said.

Conley said it's important for families to have the opportunity to go to church while knowing their children have something to go to.

Billings agreed.

“I have a relationship with a lot of the families, and I adore the kids,” she said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 orjbarron@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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