Parents of children with special needs advised to get organized

Image Courtesy: The Westfield News

WESTFIELD, Mass. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS) – Parents of children with special needs were given tools and tips on how to organize paperwork at “Let’s Get Organized,” a workshop offered on Thursday by Family Ties of Massachusetts at the invitation of the Westfield Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC).

A Let’s Get Organized binder was given to parents at the SEPAC workshop on Thursday. (Photo by Amy Porter)
A Let’s Get Organized binder was given to parents at the SEPAC workshop on Thursday. (Photo by Amy Porter)

Mary Castro Summers provided a binder and instructions on how to use it to about 20 parents who participated from Westfield, Gateway and Granville. SEPAC workshops are free and open to families in surrounding communities.

“Our kids come with a lot of paperwork and no instruction manual,” Summer said as she went step by step through ways to organize medical and school records. She said keeping all of the records in one place is also building a foundation for families “because they’re going to be able to use this tool as they move forward with their kids.”

“Your binder will be a way to introduce your child to the community of people who interact with your child,” Summer said. Besides records, she recommended including a child introductory letter and samples of school and art work. Included in the binder she handed out was a business card holder and magazine strip for informational materials, along with “instructions.” Summer said that her other children asked her to make a binder for them, and she also made one for her mother as she got older, for her caregiving.

One of the additional tips that Summer suggested was using a shared family calendar with each member assigned a different color for entries. She also recommended assigned time off for parents, telling the story of one parent who wrote on the family calendar a two-hour block once a month for herself as a doctor appointment, but used it for mental health breaks, such as meeting a friend for coffee.

Summers also gave out a directory of resources with names and contact information of people and organizations available to help families. She introduced Linda Surprenant, the new western regional coordinator of Family Ties, who she said is available as a contact and advocate for families. Surprenant may be reached at

Family Ties of Massachusetts, a project of the Federation for children with Special Needs, is a statewide parent-to-parent network providing information and emotional support to families and professionals supporting children with special needs.

SEPAC is a volunteer organization run by parents in Westfield. On Thursday, February 11 they will be presenting “Dislecksia: The Movie,” the first dyslexic film to offer an alternative perspective of dyslexia as a learning difference, rather than a disability, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Westfield Technical Academy cafeteria. For more information email or follow on Facebook at Westfield MA Special Education Parent Advisory Council.

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