Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Attending a conference can be life-changing.
This past weekend the first Parent Empowerment Summit was held in Bettendorf, IA, and it far surpassed my expectations for a first-time event. Providing the opportunity for people to gather in a space and connect was as impactful as I had hoped, but I had no idea how empowering it would be for so many to realize one simple fact: they were not alone. Tears were shed, hugs were given freely, and smiles of encouragement and meaningful conversation were plentiful.
If you have never attended a conference before, you need to put it on your to-do list. The information gathered will help guide you on your journey, but being in a room of people who "get it" and can relate to your life is priceless. We are better together.
You might be thinking, "If these conferences are so amazing, what stands in the way of people attending?"
Well, let's debunk some of the most popular excuses not to attend right now.
"There is no way I can be in a room with strangers. I'm an introvert for goodness sake!"
Mythbuster alert: no need to be intimidated. You're in good company and there are always friendly faces to help ease your trepidation. The first event I attended was the National Tourette Association Conference in Washington D.C.. Though I had spoken with a few people in attendance online or on the phone, I had never met anyone in person. You know what? By the end of the first session, I was already comfortably speaking with a few people. That number grew over the next few days and we still keep in touch!
At this weekend's Summit, many expressed they were way out of the comfort zone attending such an event. At the end of the day, I asked people to write down how they felt after spending the day learning and connecting with others. The responses were so heartwarming. Even the biggest introverts had a wonderful time!
"I can't leave my kids."
Mythbuster: Yes, yes you can. They will be okay and you will return an energized, empowered, more patient parent. The emotional high takes several days to come down from, but when you do, you'll still have your newfound friends to keep your spirits up even in times of stress. You'll have grown your support network immensely, both with parents who "get it" and resources who can help your family thrive. If you can come with your significant other, great. If you have no one to watch your children, come alone or grab a friend to join you. YOU need this experience. I promise. There is nothing better than genuine connection.
"I don't have the money."
While this can be a very legitimate reason for not attending, with some planning, utilizing resources, and some good old creativity, you, too, can attend a conference without putting yourself in a hole financially. The next Tourette Conference is in May 2020. I have every intention of attending and would like my husband to have the opportunity to join me as well. It will be costly, but it can be done!
A simple way to save for the cost of the event: stick away $5 a week in an envelope. Skip the drive-thru or the coffee and tuck that cash away in an envelope. You will be amazed how quickly it will add up. Have a more flexible budget? Make it $10!
Another way to raise some funds is to create a fundraiser. Get your kiddos involved and have some fun with it. We have done awareness t-shirt sales, Super Bowl squares, and a simple donation request from family and friends. You could have a bake sale, a garage sale, or utilize online Marketplace sites to get rid of the clutter in your house while saving for the event.
Lastly, utilize the resources in your area. There are organizations within your state, as well as national organizations, that assist families of exceptional children. You could submit a request to a Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, or other local civic organization in your community. There are specific state organizations that have stipend opportunities. As each state's organizations vary, start here and see what is available in your state.
You can go directly to your district's special education coordinator and ask. There are federal funds available through IDEIA (Individuals with Disabilities
Education Improvement Act) and some districts may opt to use those funds to assist families in educational opportunities.
The honest truth is this: you will never know unless you ask. In my state, I can receive a $200 stipend from my local education agency for an out-of-state conference. I utilized this opportunity to reduce my conference registration fee by half.
If there is a will, there's a way. Seek out conferences you would be interested in attending and get to work! The more time before the event, the better, as it gives you plenty of time to reach out to organizations until you find the one that can assist.
Type up a letter explaining what the conference is and why it would help your family if you could attend. Put some feeling into it! This journey can be isolating, overwhelming, and hopeless at times. Make sure your words reflect your true feelings and experiences. Passion leads to action!
Below I've included a few websites that may be of assistance. This is just a very small list, so be sure to take the time to ask around on your local special needs online support groups to see if anyone else has recommendations of places to contact.
Have an idea you'd like to share to help other families?! Please comment on this post and help our community become more empowered in their journey raising an exceptional child!