Advocacy to parents understanding your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), which includes: A. Interpretation, B.Preparation C. Monitoring and observation, D. Meeting attendance, E. Letter Writing, etc…
Special Needs NJ Family Services serves locals in Sussex County
Sussex County NJ Parent Advocate: Linda Leenstra
BY CLAUDIA CARAMIELLO PUBLISHED DEC 10, 2013 AT 6:18 PM (UPDATED Feb. 2017) ShareThis ANDOVER —
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This famous quote from “The Lorax” appears on the cover of a pamphlet for Special Needs NJ Family Services LLP in Andover. It serves as an important message and theme of the children’s advocacy agency, who believe that all children have the potential to succeed academically regardless of any “special needs.”
Offering a helping hand For a parent, having a child who has been classified in school is usually an emotional experience fraught with confusion, questions and anxiety. The question, “What do we do next?” is raised, and parents can feel overwhelmed with paperwork, Individual Education Plans (IEP) interpretation, and meetings with Child Study Teams.
Helping a child to stay motivated, reach their potential, and like school can be a daunting task for mothers and fathers. Serving families throughout NJ but anchored in Sussex County, Special Needs NJ provides individual services to families who have a child in the school system with special needs. These services include Advocacy for the child, tutoring, life skills, ABA therapy, and now adding Life Coaching for parents and aging students.
The goal of Special Needs NJ, is to help parents navigate the sometimes confusing world of having a classified child, as well as making children aware that they have someone on their side.
“If you went to work everyday and were compared to the guy in the next cubicle, you would start to hate going to work,” says Special Educator, advocate, therapist, and life coach, Linda Leenstra, known warmly to her students as “Ms. Linda.”
“Everybody needs to understand that we are not all square pegs that fit neatly into the square hole. The American education system is so stuck on this concept that children begin to feel like there is something wrong with them; they don’t fit into the system,” says Leenstra. “Here at Special Needs NJ, we feel that individualism is a great thing!”
Classification: In New Jersey, there are 14 different types of classifications within the education system. For parents, making sense of the terminology, and navigating a path toward well being for their child can be intimidating. Leenstra provides the important service of going into the schools with the parents and attending IEP meetings with the Child Study Team. She often encourages parents to bring a picture of their child to the meeting which helps keep the focus on why everyone is there. They are there for the child. “It is important for school systems to know that we are not working against them, but with them,” says Leenstra. “The best thing for a child is an educated parent, and our main drive is to educate parents on how to get their child in the right program.”
In an effort to help a child reach their potential, Special Needs NJ also will go into homes and provide, not only tutoring, and help with a specific subject, but life skills for children who have a learning disabilities, and behavioral training for both parent and child. Special Needs NJ can help train parents on how to deal with struggles their child may be going through, and provide encouragement to the child. The agency will also assist parents in organizing and understanding the paperwork and forms that comes with having a child who is classified.
Anniversary: as Special Needs NJ is entering it’s fifth year, they continue to grow and provide help to families in New Jersey. The agency also works on a sliding scale fee, and are individualized to a client’s needs. Leenstra regards her role as advocate and educator as more then a job, and establishes a strong connection to the families she works with.
“If you think about it, kids are always under scrutiny, always judged,” says Leenstra. “They are naturally free spirits who want to learn, explore, touch everything, but then they go to school and have their art work compared to other kids.” “For every negative statement made, we should always make five positive ones,” Leenstra advises. “People want to be complemented, not compared.”