Hannibal Special Education Parent Teacher Alliance offering sensory-friendly dance on Saturday


The Hannibal Special Education Parent Teacher Alliance met at Veterans Elementary on March 2 7 and received information and resources from agencies such as Mark Twain Behavioral Health, Judevine, Learning Opportunities and Marion County Services for the Developmentally Disabled. | Photo courtesy of SEPTA

HANNIBAL, Mo. — Heather Clemens knows what it’s like to walk the path alone as a parent to a special needs child, and she doesn’t want anyone else to have to do it.

Clemens’ daughter, now 16 years old and mostly nonverbal, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Her 13-year-old son has ADHD and also is on the autism spectrum.

“I definitely have a heart for special needs families, and I know what it’s like to walk that road by yourself,” she said. 

The Hannibal Special Education Parent Teacher Alliance (SEPTA), a parent-teacher organization, provides support, encouragement and mentoring to families in the Hannibal Public School District or Mississippi Valley State School with children who have a 504 or an individualized education program. 

Through the group, parents with young kids who are just starting their journey can pair up other parents whose children are in middle school and high school. While no two children with special needs are the same, Clemens said sharing experiences is great for parents.

“There are some things that work and some things that don’t, and parents can share those things to help another family. That’s one thing that we love about this group is that we see so many parents who have been able to meet each other,” she said. “Even if you can just be Facebook friends and comment to provide support and encouragement when someone’s having a rough day, that’s a really important thing.” 

The group also provides education to special needs families. Clemens said many resources are out there for special needs families but many don’t know about them or the right way to access the services.

“We’re trying to do each month is to have someone come in from a local organization and kind of talk about what they do and how they can best meet the needs of our special needs families,” she said. “We have had a variety of different presentations and speakers this year.”

Local agencies have visited the group, such as Brock Sousa from the Basic Employment Skills Training program that provides support to students who have disabilities to learn skills to be employed after graduation.

The group meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at Veterans Elementary.

Amy Ohnemus, attorney at Wasinger Parham, L.C., will visit the group this week to discuss guardians and conservatorships for people with special needs who are older than 18. Clemens said this is a very important topic for special needs families that many do not know about until it’s too late.

Clemens said once a child surpasses 18, parents might lose the right to sit in on an IEP meeting or make medical decisions that their child isn’t capable of making themselves. 

“It’s really important to have that information, know what they need to do and also how long that process is going to take,” she said. “There are a lot of different ways to do that. You don’t always have to get full guardianship. You can get partial guardianship and let your child decide. They can make their own decisions in some areas, but maybe not in others.”

SEPTA will host its first sensory-friendly dance from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, April 27 at Veterans Elementary for students from Hannibal Middle School and Hannibal High School and older Mississippi Valley students with a 504 or an IEP. Students must be accompanied by an adult.

The cafeteria will be set up with snacks and games, and the cafeteria will have music. To keep it sensory friendly, the gym will not be dark, and the music will not be loud. 

“If kids don’t want to dance, that’s OK. They can just enjoy the games and food,” Clemens said. “We just want everyone to have a good time.”

To reserve tickets for the dance visit their sign up genius page. learn more about SEPTA, visit the Hannibal Special Education Parent Teacher Alliance Facebook page.

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