By SARAH VIREN - When Daniel Maya was at Mayde Creek High School, he had more to worry about than pop quizzes and unfriendly faces in the cafeteria.
Maya, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, had to remember to charge his chair each night and arrange each year for a wheelchair-accessible school bus to pick him up. One year he forgot that second part and a bus with no ramp arrived for him on the first day of classes.
"For someone like me it's harder, it's more complicated than for regular kids," he said Saturday during a lunch break of spaghetti and garlic bread at the Special Parents Resource Fair in Houston.
Now 21, he was at the forum with his mother and sister to get advice on handling a new challenge: college life.
Support for parents
The daylong forum, for parents and their children with disabilities, is in its second year in Houston. It grew last year out of a grass-roots effort to save Jack Yates Senior High School, which was rumored for closure last year because of its declining student body.
Arva Howard, an assistant city attorney who helped organize the forum, said that in rallying for Yates, activists realized how many special-needs children had been left in the poorly performing school while others had transferred out.
Howard is president of Parents for Public Schools of Houston, a group that offers parental resources and lobbies for better school facilities. That group, along with the city of Houston and Partners Resource Network, a support organization for Texas parents of special needs children, sponsored the event.
Last year, organizers targeted parents from Yates and its feeder schools. The idea was to help improve that school.
This year the forum expanded to include districts outside Houston Independent School District.
About 100 attended, including parents of children who are blind and deaf and children with autism, Down syndrome, attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy, said Debbie Schultz, project director for Project TEAM Houston, a program run through Partners Resource Network.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 6.6 million public school students from age 3 through 21 received special-education services in the 2003-2004 school year, the most recent data available. That's about 14 percent of the total enrollment in public schools.
Schultz said parents of special needs children often feel ostracized in social settings.
Along with offering practical resources, the forum also gave parents an opportunity to meet other parents in similar situations.
"Sometimes people are not welcome and not friendly (toward parents of special needs children), but with us they are totally tolerated and accepted," she said.
Hiwan Jones is a New Orleans evacuee living in the Alief school district with her 6-year-old son Terran Payne, who has cerebral palsy.
Learning what's available
While she attended a workshop run by someone from the Social Security Administration Saturday afternoon, Payne busily colored . The Alexander Elementary School student has trouble holding a pencil or crayon correctly, Jones said. But she recently found a way to get him physical therapy.
"There is a lot more support here for cerebral palsy than in New Orleans," she said.
But it hasn't been easy. Along with finding a home and school district, she had to learn the new programs and resources available here for Payne.