Program aimed at parents of special needs children

Saturday, January 16, 2010
Jill Summerlot

GREENCASTLE -- Jill Summerlot has plenty of firsthand experience dealing with special needs children.

Now, Summerlot puts that experience to work helping others as a regional program specialist for the Indiana Resource Center for Families with Special Needs (IN*SOURCE).

Summerlot will present a program, "Parents and Schools: Partners Helping Special Needs Students," on Tuesday.

The program, part of the Education Series offered by Mental Health America of Putnam County, will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Putnam County Museum, 1105 N. Jackson St., Greencastle .

IN*SOURCE provides services to families in Indiana with infants, toddlers, children, youth and young adults with disabilities. The organization uses a parent-to-parent model.

The MHAPC board selects the topics for the Education Series. Executive Director Eileen Johnson said this one had been kicked around for some time.

"It was one the board really wanted to do," she said. "We were fortunate to find Jill."

Summerlot's son Riley, 12, exhibits five of the 12 eligibility characteristics for special education services as outlined by Article 7 of the Indiana Constitution.

Summerlot knew when Riley started missing his milestones as a toddler that something wasn't right. She had two older children, and Riley was very different.

"I kept taking him to doctors, and they kept telling me everything was OK and that he was fine."

Riley eventually entered the First Steps program to help him reach his milestones. When Summerlot took him to a screening, she was asked when her son had had a stroke.

"It clicked," she said. "He walked with his hands clenched. He wasn't speaking. There were all kinds of stroke indicators."

It turned out Riley had suffered a stroke at birth, due to a blood clot.

Summerlot set about doing everything she could to give her son all he needed to succeed and to make sure he got an adequate education.

"I was given a copy of Article 7 and told to read it from front to back," she said. "It's a dry read, but it's something everyone with a special needs child should read. Everything you're entitled to is in there."

Article 7 spells out in precise detail the legals rights of special needs children and their families not only in the state, but under federal regulations.

Summerlot took IN*SOURCE training to become a regional parent resource volunteer. After serving in that capacity for a year, she was hired for her current position, which she has held for nine years.

Summerlot now works out of her home in Roachdale. She provides assistance to families in Putnam, Boone, Clinton, Hendricks, Montgomery, Parke, and Vermillion counties.

In the grant year, which ran from October 2008 to September 2009, IN*SOURCE'S 17 satellite offices assisted more than 22,000 families.

"I enjoy my work," she said. "It sounds corny, but I still get up each morning and am happy that I know I'm going to help at least one more family each day."

For more information on Tuesday's program or any of MHAPC's services, call 653-3310.

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