MANATEE -- Parents of children with disabilities need preparation, education and support in planning their child's academic and social future.
To help them prepare, Family Network on Disabilities of Manasota will conduct its 14th annual One-Day Educational Conference from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Woodland Community Church,
The Family Network on Disabilities nonprofit supports families of children with disabilities through education, advocacy and caregiver support.
The theme of this year's conference is LIFE (lifelong learning, independent living, fun and employment) beyond school.
May Smith, executive director of the Family Network
on Disabilities, said the conference goal is to encourage parents and professionals to understand it is never too early to start planning for a disabled child's future.
"Parents of children with disabilities want the same thing for their child as parents of children without disabilities, but the way you have to get there is different" Smith said.
Disabilities addressed include autism, Down syndrome, speech impairment and learning deficiencies.
Conference keynote speakers will give tips on what parents and professionals can do to help students transition between education and adulthood through planning and activities.
The opening speaker is George Tilson, senior vice president of TransCen Inc., a national nonprofit dedicated to improving educational and employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
Tilson will discuss strategies and ideas for students at every age, including creation of a "Positive Personal Profile," an exercise called "Imagine Working!" and other tools for engaging children and their families.
The conference also will provide breakout sessions covering specific age groups from kindergarten to adulthood.
The conference is sponsored by the exceptional student education departments of the Manatee County and Sarasota County school boards, the Florida Inclusion Network, Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System, the Reading Station and United Cerebral Palsy of Southwest Florida.
During the conference, a CVS Pharmacy district manager will present the Family Network on Disabilities with a $15,000 CVS Caremark Foundation grant.
Smith said the grant will be used to work with local pediatricians on a screening program to identify disabilities or autism at a younger age and provide referrals for evaluation and services.
Smith said the conference has featured different topics based on community feedback each of the past 14 years
"We kept hearing from families we served that they would love to get more information, but they cannot go away to the national conferences in big cities," Smith said.
The cost for the conference is $25 per individual and $40 per couple, which includes materials from all presentations, a light breakfast and boxed lunch. The price increases to $30 per individual and $50 per couple after April 25.
A limited number of parent scholarships are available to cover conference costs. Call Smith at 941-928-0682 for information on scholarships.
Registration is open online at fndmanasota.org. Woodland Community Church is at 9607 State Road 70 E in Bradenton.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081