Westfield, NJ – Lisa Wendel, a Westfield resident and mom of twin teenage boys with special needs, discovered the Westfield Parent Teacher Committee's special education committee when her sons were just diagnosed at a young age. The parent-volunteer run committee primarily serves as a dedicated support group and information source for parents of children with special needs.

“I didn’t know where to turn,“ said Wendel. “At the time, there was very little information available, and it was a scary journey. Having a committee like this, where you could attend presentations, approach professionals and fellow parents experiencing similar issues — it was invaluable.”

Wendel has never left the group and for the past eight years has been the chair of the committee. In her role she said she gives the same support and hope to parents that she had received years earlier.

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The commitment by Wendel and other volunteers to the special needs community will be on display at the 23rd annual Awareness Expo presented by the Westfield PTC- special education next Wednesday, March 16, at Edison Intermediate School, 800 Rahway Avenue in Westfield. Wendel and her committee have organized four educational workshops to be presented by top professional doctors, therapists and educators. The event is free and open to the public.

“The objective is to provide insight into a variety of issues that empower parents and educators to advocate for their children,” Wendel said. “We hope to raise awareness of special needs issues, as the more we educate, the more our children benefit.”

Based on research from previous expos, this year’s topics will include seminars on anxiety/depression, behavior, medication and technology. These four areas will be explored during the evening in two separate one-hour sessions, allowing the attendees to go to two of the four seminars. While all the presenters are experienced public speakers, Dr. Robert Zambrano, who will address Managing Anxiety and Depression: Practical Strategies for Home and School has drawn the biggest crowds in the past.

“Dr. Zambrano is one of the few experts in OCD/Anxiety that puts a sense of humor around issues,” said Wendel. “He has a very direct and thorough approach, with lots of credible examples.”

Technology in education is rapidly changing the landscape of how schools operate. From the use of tablets and laptops in the classroom to instant daytime communication between parents and the school, technology is making a big difference in the classroom. Specific technology that helps students with special needs become more independent will be presented at the expo. It is the sixth year that the expo has featured a workshop on technology.

“Now technology is able to put our kids on equal par,” said Wendel. “We’ve always been out there supporting the technology.”

The expo organizers are hoping to draw between 275-300 attendees from Union County and throughout New Jersey. The audience usually consists mostly of parents and professionals in special education. In addition, the expo also offers educators an opportunity to get professional development hours, satisfying their training requirements.

“The professionals come and present and I think that it really makes a difference,” said Wendel. “It’s a wonderful experience and lots of knowledge transfer.”

Pre-registration is recommended. To register, click here. For additional information, email specialedparents@westfieldnjk12.org

In addition to being a frequent contributor to TAP into Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports and the sports editor for Education Update.