More Help Available for Parents of Children with Special Needs
March 4, 2021 by Samuel Hummer

Now more than ever, parents of children with special needs and learning disabilities could use extra help, and Michelle Frygier wants them to know support is available.

Now more than ever, parents of children with special needs and learning disabilities could use extra help, and Michelle Frygier wants them to know support is available.

Frygier, who has two teenage children with special needs, is the only parent mentor in Geauga County through the Educational Service Center of the Western Reserve.

While a parent mentor serves as a neutral party— meaning they have no decision-making authority over a child’s learning —  that does not mean Frygier is inactive.

She said her goal is to “help facilitate efficient and good relationships between (the child’s) family and school (and to) help families learn to advocate on behalf of their child.”

“For many, many years, there has been a parent mentor, but there is a rising need in Geauga County for the services of a parent mentor,” Frygier said, adding her position, which she started in August of 2020, is funded through a grant from the Ohio Department of Education.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many more families with special needs children need more assistance, she said.

“COVID has led to a lot of issues with providing services to special needs kids and a lot of people just need extra support right now,” Frygier said. “As a parent of two special needs children, I know it can be really scary when you look at a formal document about your child. It is very overwhelming to try and understand what it all means when it’s in front of you like that.”

As the parent mentor, Frygier helps families understand what “all the words mean” when it comes to their child’s educational plan, often referred to as an IEP or 504 plan, and the entire special education process.

Since she works closely with school districts, Frygier is in communication with directors, teachers and other faculty members involved in a specific child’s case to help the school and the family work together so the child receives the best education possible, she said.

She also attends meetings at the request of the parents on their child’s behalf, sits with parents over video/audio calls and is constantly going back and forth to ensure everyone is on the same page for their child’s learning plan.

In her new role, Frygier believes she is finally able to help give back to the community in a very sentimental way.

“I had two parent mentors help me and I do not know what I would have done without them. I feel like I am giving back to everyone that helped me and my children over the years,” she said.

“The documents, the meetings, phone calls, they usually all tend to focus on the negatives (about one’s child), but I want people to know that yes, it is always hard to hear all that stuff about your child, but there are a lot of people who want to help and help you (know you) are not alone.” Frygier said she knows firsthand how personally challenging and rewarding it is to have a child with special needs.

“Having them has made me a better person, so I take my role in helping guide and support families, with whatever support they may need, very seriously,” she said.

For more information about parent mentor role, visit www.escwr.org, or go to the Ohio Department of Education’s homepage under the “topics” section and click on the “gifted education” option.