Making their own way

  • Janice Hubberth, center, and her son Joseph, 14, talk with Rhonda Daniels, with Moving Forward Toward Independence, during the Transition Fair at the Sonoma County Office of Education on Wednesday, February 15, 2012. The fair showcases resources for students with disabilities as they transition from public school to the broader environment. Joseph Hubberth was born with Prader-Willi syndrome.

Public schools help guide disabled youths through their teen years, but what happens when they graduate and become adults?

Hundreds of Sonoma County parents sought answers to that question Wednesday at the fourth annual Transition Fair at the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Parents of young adults with special needs learned about myriad resources available to help their children through the daunting transition from public school into the wider world.

More than three dozen social service groups offered information about job training and placement, continuing education, housing, day programs, health care and finances.

Petaluma mother Sandy Smail and her son John, 21, collected business cards, fliers and pamphlets. Like other parents, Smail said the process is overwhelming.

John, who has mild cerebral palsy and developmental delays, works at Costco now and previously worked at Sutter Hospital. But, like many young adults, he is eager to move out and become more independent.

Dana Zapanta, a school psychologist in the special ed department, said this transition is a difficult one for parents.

"There are different times when parents get anxious – before high school, between 18 and 22 and when public education ends," she said.

Special needs youths can remain in the public education system until age 22. Then, they are no longer eligible for school-based special education programs.

"There's just so much parents don't know," Smail said. "It's a learning process. It's scary in a lot of ways."

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