Tips for Parents of Special Need Children

Tips for Parents of Special Need Children

This August, many children with Special Needs will be walking down the hall for the first time. For parents of these children, this can be overwhelming as well as exciting. Here are three steps to help parents of Special Need Children prepare for the first day of school.

School  Visit

school hallway

It can be overwhelming starting a new school. If you are the parent of a child with special needs, this can cause anxiety not only for you but the child as well.  Scheduling a visit at the school is an excellent idea. By planning a visit during the summer helps the child to see the school when it is less crowded. It is important for the child to walk down the hallways and class room to get a familiarity of the place.  This tour should include the cafeteria, the library, principal’s office, the nurse’s office as well as the classroom where the student will be if that is available at the time. If the child is switching classes, this schedule should be followed in order as this will be the child routine. Also, knowing where the closest bathroom is also essential.

Picture Schedules
If your child is a visual learner, creating a picture schedule may work.  If possible, two weeks before school starts, go to the school and take pictures of the school, school buses,  and facility. Arrange the pictures in subsequent events. This picture schedule will help the child with an understanding of their schedule in pictures.  This picture schedule can be used while in school.  For example, when to change classes, or when they should go to the bathroom.  The picture should prompt the question “After we do this,then we do this. ”

Supportive Staff.
No one knows children better than their parents. It is important the first week of school to get to know the teachers and supports who will be teaching your child. If your child has an Individual  Education Plan ( IEP) or 504 plan, ensure all parties have a copy of this so they can plan how to serve your child best.  The lines of communication for both sides should be open.  If your child has an aide in the class or a paraprofessional get to know them as well. If your child will need additional resources such as Speech, Occupational Therapy and or Behavioral Services, Speak up. Advocating for your children’s needs is essential to a successful school year.

Be involved

father and daughter doing homework

Parent Teacher Association ( PTA), the school bake sales, Booster Club, whatever activity there is which requires a parent interaction and participation, if you can be active in it, then do it. It shows you support your child’s education. This behavior indicates that this parent is active in their child’s life as well as education.  These activities can be used as social interaction with other parent’s whose child may have similar diagnose, as well as be a resource for additional information which parent who does not participate may not be aware.  Parents who are involved in their child’s education may also get more support. As the slogan goes, ” Membership does have its benefits.”

As a Social Worker who works with the Autistic Community, I often courage parents as well as teachers to encourage their children to be active in school. In school inclusion is imperative to all children and help build self – esteem, friendships and as well as confidence.

As the school year starts, it’s wise to have a plan when it comes to children and education,  If you follow these three steps, your child will be off to a good start. Here is to making this school year the best year.


What I Wish People Knew I Did As A Career

What I Wish People Knew I Did As A Career

When I tell people what it is I do as a career, I get one of three responses. A typical conversation with me goes like this: Hi, My name is Taveesha Guyton, and I am a Social Worker who works with the Intellectual Disabled and Autistic Population. The first response I usually get is, “Wow! That is cool.” The second response I get is, It takes a “Special Person” to do what it is you do. This compliment is usually followed by “God Bless You.” The third comment I get, you must be a patient person to work with “those people”. I would like to offer a few rebuttals to the compliments I have received working with the Special Needs Population.

1. “​Wow that is cool.” No, it’s not cool. Please do not get me wrong, I understand the sentiment and respect the fact people think it is awesome and amazing that I have chosen to work with a particular group of people who society considers an underdog or a nuisance in many ways. I give of myself in a way which enhances someone else’s life and for that, I am grateful someone recognizes the passion I have working with this population. However, building roller coasters is a cool job to have. I think being an ice cream tester for Ben and Jerry’s is a cool job to have for a day. I think being an extra in a movie and telling all my friends, is cool! What I do as a profession is rewarding, and I do not take this career for granted. I am always learning and amazed at the capabilities of the individuals I serve. I am also aware of the many hurdles Individuals with Special needs have to overcome.

2.” ​It Takes A Special Person” The ability to engage in another’s life is challenging. The capacity to help someone who has a disability navigate the world created for “Neuro- typical People” is difficult. If I can be completely transparent; we as “Neuro-typical people”(average) take a lot for granted. If I can help people see the challenges individuals who are Intellectually Disabled and Autistic face, and it creates social change, I have done my job..

3. ​” It Takes Patience To Work With “Those People.” I feel uneasiness when I hear people referred to this population as “those people”. At its core, working with the Intellectually Disabled and Autistic community is a Civil Rights issue. According to the Arc, “The history of living with a disability in the United States has largely been one of discrimination, segregation, and exclusion – from education, work, housing, and even from routine daily activities”.
The patience I have developed by working with “those people” has come from being in the trenches. I have battle scars. I have encountered physical aggression which includes: Having shirts ripped, glasses slapped off my face, been the target because clients could not get seconds on dinner due to diet restrictions. Non- compliance when it comes to take medication, eat meals, (even when proper substitute meals were available), getting into vans, get out of vans. I have been called names which
would make someone’s grandmother blush, but because of all that I have endured, this has made me a more patient person. As a result of the many battles I have lost, I have learned to anticipate maladaptive behaviors, as well have trained others, so they do not have to face the same fate.

I am not Wonder Woman. There is no “Thank a “Social Worker” day on the U.S calendar, like “National Boss Day, Or Administrator Day”. I get paid peanuts, and most of the time, I do not see my desk for days at a time because paper work surrounds it. I wear many hats: I am a lawyer, a teacher, an accountant, a taxi driver, a personal assistant, and a therapist. I make miracles happen for clients who are on shoe-string budgets. I connect people to resources; I create resources.

I am reminded of a quote, “Let the works I have done, speak for me”. I hope they do. I am proud of the work I do. No, I am not looking for a pat on the back for a job well done. I am not looking for accolades, or a day to be named in my honor. Just some understanding and maybe a trip to the Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream factory because being an Ice cream tester would be cool. 


Houston, We  Have A Problem

Houston, We Have A Problem

In this world, creeps, jerks, and butt heads are everywhere, and in the world of individuals with disabilities, idiots are plentiful. It is a fact that persons with disabilities, children and the elderly are more likely to be abused, neglected and exploited. We live in an age where parents are fearful to send their “precious cargo” to school for fear someone will hurt them, and if you are a parent with a child who is non-verbal this fear multiplies. I know parents who do head to toe body checks on their kids before and after a trip to daycare. Obsessive?  Depends on who you ask. The fact that abuse and neglect can happen to their children is a paralyzing fear that settles over parents and caregivers of children with special needs.

For those parents who have made a choice to put their kids in a group home or a residential facility may feel somewhat relieved due to the amount staff a home or facility may have in these places. The fact that the Abuse Hotline phone number is located in multiple locations within the home does nothing for clients if staff cannot articulate to the clients what abuse and neglect are. To them, the Abuse Hotline number might as just be a picture on the wall.

sad kid

What is abuse? According to Webster Dictionary, Abuse is defined by a corrupt practice or custom the buying of votes and other election abuses
2:  improper or excessive use or treatment:  misuse drug abuse
3:  language that condemns or usually vilifies unjustly, intemperately, and angrily verbal abuse a term of abuse
4:  physical maltreatment child abuse sexual abuse
Abuse includes:
Financial (not paying clients’ bills when supposed to, using the money for things that have nothing to do with the client); also sexual, physical, and emotional.


People with disabilities are at risk because: 

abused child

They depend on others for basic needs
They are taught to cooperate with ” people in charge” like staff members.
They often live in group settings and cannot choose their roommates or caregivers.

People with disabilities may not report abuse because:
They feel guilty
Do not want to get their abuser in trouble
Do not know they are being abused

Signs of Abuse:
*Bruises, cuts, burns, grip marks
*Any injury that is unusual, unexplained or the explanation does not make sense
*Genital pain, or itching or sexually transmitted diseases.
*Not having enough money in the bank for bills, after monthly deposits, items may be disconnected such as water or power, after they were supposed to be paid, (this applies to individuals who live on their own  and have a Supported Living Coach who helps them pay bills)
*Not enough food in the refrigerator or pantry (this generally for individuals who live on their own and have a Supported Living Coach who helps them pay bills) or clients buying staff items with their own money e.g. groceries, fast-food or giving their money to staff.

As a Social Worker who works for this vulnerable population exclusively, I see clients on a monthly basis. I continue to educate clients on what abuse looks like in ways they can understand asking, ” Who would you tell If I hit you?” I always ask them if I can have some money, and most of the time, they say, “No” In the event in which one of my clients forget, I then re- educate them on the importance of not giving their money to people. I follow-up with a phone call to their circle of supports and explain my finding and re-educate the circle of supports on other ways we as a collective can educate the people we serve. It is important to me as advocate, dedicated educator and supporter of the Special Needs community; our clients are aware and educated on Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation.

For more information about this topic please go to

Havercamp, S.M. & Veguilla, M. ( 2009). Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation: How to Protect  Yourself

Guardian Advocacy.. What Parents Need  To Know

Guardian Advocacy.. What Parents Need To Know

With graduation season upon us, parents are face to face with the reality their child is no longer a baby, but a bonafide adult. It is these facts which make parents aware of the responsibilities that come with being an adult. Being an adult comes with its challenges, however becoming an adult who has special needs is a challenge in itself.  As parents make the best decision for their children, how does one determine what legal aspects to consider?  Legal guardianship comes up many times, specifically in the areas of medical matters.  So, let’s talk Guardian Advocacy and what does that mean for yourself and your child.


Guardian Advocacy is a process for families, caregivers, and friends of individuals with an intellectual disability to obtain a guardianship without having to have an examining committee appointed to determine that the person is incompetent.   A Guardian Advocate needs to be selected when a person with a developmental disability turns he or she turns 18.   Upon becoming any adult, the parent no longer has the legal ability to make decisions for their child.   To obtain guardian advocacy over an individual, the person with an intellectual disability must have a disorder or syndrome that falls under certain criteria.


If the individual has an Intelligent Quotient of below 70,  Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Spina Bifida, Prader-Willi Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Phelan- McDermid Syndrome, which manifests before the age of 18. Not everyone with an intellectual disability needs a legal guardian. One is necessary if the person is not able to make the necessary decisions relating to daily life activities (where to live, financial decisions, educational decisions, etc.). If you fear your child may not be able to make sound decisions regarding their life, Guardian Advocacy may be the way to go and is the least restrictive regarding what is best for the individual in the future.


Background Check Requirements and who may not serve as Guardian Advocate:


A person who may not be appointed as a Guardian Advocate includes anyone who has been convicted of a felony; suffers from any incapacity or illness that makes them incapable of discharging duties of a Guardian Advocate, or is otherwise unsuitable to perform the functions of a Guardian Advocate; has been judicially determined to have committed abuse, abandonment, or neglect of a child.


As an advocate, and Social Worker, I understand making the best decision for your loved one is not easy, and I applaud anyone who takes into consideration their loved one’s future.


If you or your loved one have any more questions or want more clarification, please reach out to attorney Laurie Ohall at (she does free workshops to help you figure out how you can file for guardian advocacy over your child on your own and without having to hire an attorney) and also check out the following links  to the guardian advocacy statutes –  If you are in Hillsborough County, here is the link to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit –

Summer Camp for Children with Special Needs

Summer Camp for Children with Special Needs

The Summer is right around the corner.  Any ideas on what to do with the little ones this Summer? What about Summer Camp. Finding the right match for your child can be a daunting task, but here are some import things to consider when looking for a camp for the Summer. There are a plethora of options when it comes to Summer Camp options, but how do parents choose what works? Here are some things to consider when looking for a camp.
What experiences would you like your child to get while attending camp?  Will your child learn to increase his or her social skills? Does the camp have a therapeutic approach such as therapeutic curriculum, e.g.,( Equestrian or Pet therapy)?What about academic? What will the camp do for your child and how do these objectives help with the overall support of the child?
 If your child will be attending a camp which is inclusive based, what are the protocols for when a child has a maladaptive behavior? Are there policies and procedures in place for such things?  Will Specialty service such as Occupational and Speech Therapist be able to come to camp to render services?

The structure of the camp is critical when considering camp. What type of activities will the child be engaged in while at camp? Are the camp activities sensory based? How will the camp incorporate social play? Will there be times dedicated to alone time in quiet areas? If so is the child allowed to bring his or her items such as  IPAD or Tablets,  and will this be incorporated into the schedule?

kids playing tug-a -war

Along with structure, another question to consider is location. How far is the camp from the nearest relative in case of emergency? Does the camp have transportation?  Will there be field trips involved?  Will a parent have to pay the full rate for a kid who only goes half days or are there discounts and financial benefits in place for this?
Medical Issues
Does the camp have a nurse on hand or are staff trained to take care of things such as seizures? Is the camp equipped to handle your child diet restrictions?


 Lots to consider when picking out a camp. I hope these questions help organize important things to consider when choosing a camp. I hope these tips were helpful.
Spring Break is gone,but Summer is around the Corner.

Spring Break is gone,but Summer is around the Corner.

  What did you do for Spring Break? Nothing fun, fresh or exciting well, I can honestly say, my spring break was better than yours and let me tell you why.  I volunteered at Autism Spectrum The camp hosted by The South Pinellas Autism Project. The Day camp location is at a local YMCA in the city of Saint Petersburg, Florida. While other kids are attending the YMCA children, who are on the Spectrum as well as have other neuro-developmental challenges as well. It is a camp within a camp.


As a social worker who works with Intellectually Disabled and Autistic children, one of my many challenges is finding resources for parents especially when it comes to activities for their children during break time like for example, is the camp equipped to handle my child and all of his needs?  Other concerns for example, what if my kid has a maladaptive episode?  Can my child bring his IPAD?

Matt Wiseman is Executive Director for the South Pinellas Autism Project, which launched in April 2016. Matt is a father of three boys, the youngest of whom is on the Autism Spectrum.

The camp accepts kids from as young as five years old up until the age of 13 years old.  At the camp, kids have the ability to join Spring Break with staff who understands their unique needs. At the camp, the children have the ability to be in quiet areas with the electronic devices as well as be social with other kids. The camp comes equipped with staff that is specifically trained to handle maladaptive behaviors. According to one of the South Pinellas Autism Project Chairperson, Rob Capuano, reports, “Our goal is to have a safe and fun camp, that accommodates kids who have challenging behavior and development issues,” says SPAP Chair Rob Capuano. “At the same time, we want to encourage them to build on positive behaviors and academic strengths.” A camp is a safe place for children who are on the Spectrum.

kids playing tug-a -war

The children have the ability to play with their own electronics. The children stay busy with a detailed scheduled created by staff. Activities include playing the Xbox with games named Fruit Ninja and Just Dance. The children have an opportunity play outside in the play ground twice a day. Children have snack time as well as lunch. These meals are not included and must be provided by parent/ guardians.

The South Pinellas Autism Project past camps have been in Winter Camp in 2016 and they will also create a Summer Camp as well in summer of 2017. The camp is located on the Greater St. Pete YMCA’s Central Campus, which is just off I-275 and easily accessible from all of South Pinellas and Eastern parts of Clearwater and Safety Harbor. Central Campus is at 5175 45th St N in St Petersburg, FL 33714. Hours are weekdays 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. The cost is $150 a week, and there is tuition assistance available. The first day of camp is May 30th, and it will run about 10 weeks until early August. 

kid on swing

If one is interested in volunteering or gaining more information about The South Pinellas Autism project can be found