The halls of Kent ISD’s Educational Service Center bustled on a Saturday morning with parents of special needs children seeking resources, ideas and expertise.
The daylong LEAP (Lead/Empower/Assist/Parents) Conference was designed for parents and providers of children with special needs. It featured presentations covering a wide variety of topics, from feeding therapy to positive discipline. There were sessions devoted to legal planning and the use of technology to help parents meet their children’s needs.
The conference began with a panel of three speakers, two students, Sarah Ress and Megan Schwartz, and one parent, Nancy Bykerk, who shared their experience with the South Christian “Connections” program, which brings the student body together through shared activities with special needs children. Bykerk, mother of multiple special needs children, said, “Everybody should have their eyes open to how special everyone is.”
Shelly Jepson, an attendee of the conference, has a daughter with cerebral palsy. She said the LEAP conference provided her with “a wealth of knowledge and local contacts.” Her daughter, 10, is a student at the Conductive Learning Center at Aquinas College and is enrolled in the Ken-O-Sha Center learning program at Grand Rapids Public Schools. Jepson said she moved to Grand Rapids from the east side of the state specifically to seek out these resources unique to the Kent area.
The day was filled with workshops and lots of time for parents to ask questions. One energetic session was held by the Comprehensive Therapy Center. Parents were instructed to “bring out [their] inner animal,” and were led through a process that helps children “play to stimulate growth of motor and language skills.” The session had parents stretching their arms and moving around. Therapy Center staff gave away free children’s books at the end of their workshop.
The LEAP Conference annually brings together experts and parents with the goal of improving the quality of children’s lives.