Written by Jill Nossa
Glen Cove father Tom Gibson has been working hard for more than a decade to ensure that his 14-year-old son, who is deaf, gets the services he needs to thrive, and is eager to share the knowledge he has gained from his personal struggles. Gibson is president of
Long Island’s Interchange Business Organization (IBO) and has teamed with The Mosaic Foundation for Autism to bring the first ever IBO/Mosaic Interactive Special Needs Resource Fair to Long Island on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which will be held at The Mosaic School for Autism, 1309 Wantagh Ave. in Wantagh.
Designed to alleviate the typically drawn out “trial and error” process that so many families who have children with autism and other developmental and/or learning disabilities often endure, this free comprehensive resource fair will feature more than 50 special needs industry professionals and educators specializing in more than 45 areas that include: cognitive development, special education, guardianship law and social security benefits. Also readily available to provide free counsel and answer questions during the fair will be speech, music and art therapists, sports,/activity coordinators, parent coaches, financial consultants, child and adult advocates, and social program providers.
“The true goal of the fair is for people to see services that are out there that families may not have known existed; have people experience them, and to have a family day. It’s not just about the parents grabbing literature off of a table; they can talk to service providers while kids are right next to them doing an activity,” says Gibson.
Gibson stresses the importance of the “experience” aspect of the fair; if parents can see immediately the impact that an art therapist or music therapist can have on their child, for example, it will help them better determine whether or not that is a service worth exploring. At the fair, he says, there will be a music therapist working with individual children for 5-10 minutes and art therapist hosting small group sessions for a 30 minutes at a time.
“Being able to experience the services is the first in road to learning what will work for your child,” says Gibson.
In addition to those sessions, they will have individual interactive activities, including arts and crafts projects, children’s Zumba, yoga and games. Since the atmosphere is meant to be fun, and not competitive, he says kids will get tickets for participating in activities, and there will be a prize table to purchase items with the tickets earned.
“A common complaint often heard from special needs parents is that finding qualified experts can be difficult and time-consuming,” explain Gibson. “Our mission in hosting the Interactive Special Needs Resource Fair is to bring to the many families who have children with special needs a comprehensive, effective network of local, qualified professionals who are readily available to help them address and see through any issues, concerns or situations they might be facing.”
When his own son, Max, started losing his hearing at the age of 2, Gibson says he had “no clue” where to go or what to do. He outlines his struggles in his self-published book, Lost in the System, which highlights some the difficulties he faced when Max was behind in reading in second grade while in the North Shore School District.
“Max walked out of second grade so far behind because the people teaching him didn’t understand his disability,” says Gibson. He got the services he needed and now, at 14, is 100 percent general education.
Part of the reason for Max’s success, Gibson believes, was his own desire to advocate for his son. He says his book was a “triumph” because it shows how a parent struggled and finally got the resources necessary for his child to succeed; parents need to advocate.
“Most of the horror stories I’ve heard come from people who don’t advocate.”
However, he credits Max more than himself or anyone else.
“He took it and ran with it,” says Gibson. “It took effort to do it all, but he never rebelled.”
Gibson founded IBO in 2006; it is a business development networking organization that helps local business professionals build strong relationships while helping members experience new ways to improve and enhance business practices through common interests and synergies. The members meet weekly, and this fair is a result of IBO’s Special Ops’ division. More information about IBO and this event is available at www.meetibo.com/special.
Gibson says they expect to have at least 500 — and as many as 1,500 families–coming through the door that day. Already, he says they are looking into a date for the next one and would like to do this fair twice a year on Long Island.
For Christmas, Max got some magic tricks and will be doing magic show. A few weeks later, he already knows 30 tricks. Gibson says the message he wants to get across is, “If he can do it, you can do it…every single kid has the ability to succeed.”