For parents of kids with special needs, it can sometimes be difficult to know if their child even has a disability and then to know where to go for help. Pancho Timmons founded Pennsylvania Youth Initiative after his own dyslexia was not diagnosed until college. He wants to help all kids with disabilities, and he has a Disability and Mental Health Summit coming up on March 3 for high school kids. Here’s his edited conversation with KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen.
Kristine Sorensen: Pancho, you’ve worked with kids with disabilities for 20 years. What can parents do if they see their child struggling or if they think their child has a disability?
Pancho Timmons: Definitely work with the school. The school can give you some tips to help as a parent. They can send extra materials and different resources home to help your kids do some extra studying and maybe get some extra credit on assignments to help them keep up.
There’s also tutoring. You can get tutoring at school and at home. If your kid’s younger, there might be a local high school student or babysitter who’s willing to help tutor. Talk to the local library for those resources and for tutoring as well. The help is there for the parent.
Also, I think structure is really important. Make sure your kids have a nice routine that involves everything from chores to homework. Helping kids stay on task and stay focused can make a big difference.
Kristine Sorensen: If your child does have a disability, I know your organization, Pennsylvania Youth Initiative, has a lot of resources. Tell us about that.
Pancho Timmons: We mainly work with high school students who have disabilities, and our goal is to help them take their first steps toward competitive employment. We do a lot of programming that involves social skills training and preparation for work through interview skills, networking skills and basic budgeting. We help them with everything that is going to help them get a job, be able to get their first paycheck and start being a productive member of society in a job that they want to do in life.
Kristine Sorensen: You have a special summit coming up to do just that, right?
Pancho Timmons: Absolutely. It is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so we’re doing a big Mental Health and Disability Summit at the David Lawrence Convention Center. We’ll be running programming for 550 kids. We’re going to teach them self-advocacy and how to do networking and their elevator speech. We also give them a Youth Forum where they get to tell us what’s going on with youth today. They often talk about school safety and bullying and begin to articulate that message. The day culminates with the teenagers having small group time with Pennsylvania lawmakers — Senators and Congressmen and Representatives. They convey their message and actually talk about change and can have an impact on some decision-makers in the state of Pennsylvania.
To register for the summit, click here.