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I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Allison Conti

Advocating for families with special needs

Advocating for families with special needs

Before having her daughter 12 years ago, and her son in 2009, Allison Conti taught kindergarten privately. She soon found herself very busy accommodating her daughter's need for physical and occupational therapies, due to hip dysplasia and other neuro-muscular complications. When her son displayed leg problems, then elements of auditory and dyslexia spectra, she quickly realized her attention needed to be redirected towards her family.

"We all have a bit of ADHD, non-medicated," Conti says of her family.

Like mother, like daughter
Conti, who grew up in northern Westchester County, remembers how her mother advocated on behalf of Allison's younger brother, and sought to have his learning disability addressed. She ended up starting one of the first Special Education Parent Teacher Associations (SEPTA) in the state.

Conti remembers reading by-laws as a girl, wondering what it was all about. She forgot much of that earlier experience until her sister reacted to her new life and work by noting, "you're just like Mommy."

"I guess I am like her," Conti says, reflectively. "What I do is a passion. My kids come first, of course, but I feel something growing. I don't know what to expect down the road."

Think outside the box to let their specialness flourish

Over the years, Conti has found how important it is to intervene on behalf of one's kid as soon as possible so you can better accommodate them and let their specialness flourish.  

Conti has helped so many families in her Wappingers School District, as well as neighboring families in the Poughkeepsie, Beacon and Putnam and Westchester area. This is probably why Hudson Valley Parent received so many calls nominating Allison Conti for an "I am a Hudson Valley Parent" profile.

READ MORE: Personal stories from a mom with a toddler on the spectrum

"People know me as the one to call when you have questions about advocating for your kids' special needs," she explains. "It's a painful process when your child gets classified by the school system. I learned from my own experience with my daughter and son that no parent should go to an evaluation alone."

Conti talks about the emotional stress involved in facing five to ten administrators in a room. She explains how it helps to be prepared and have an advocate along who's not as invested as all parents are with their kids. "My niece's son is autistic. She found a teacher who can think outside the box. This taught me that just because administrators can find a box to place your child in, doesn't mean they need to be in that box."

"Social media has helped me help others," she says in her fast, husky voice. "I actively participate in my local PTA but don't feel I can afford to take a board position of any sort. I don't want to spread myself too thin."

Conti adds that she also helps fellow parents stay as informed as possible about all that's involved in getting one's school district to meet their kids' needs as fully and uniquely as possible.

Advocate for your kids and yourself

"It's all very emotional, and that's the key. Many times, school administrators are willing to keep experimenting, keep re-doing things," Conti says. "But why don't we try not medicating? Why not trust that the parent knows their child best? Parents need help before their children are classified, but many parents are afraid to advocate for themselves. They're afraid to make the school, or their kid's teacher, mad."

She quiets, then mentions someone who contacted her about a son who'd had two suicide attempts by the age of eight. He wasn't placed in the right classes and, unlike her own son, wasn't allowed to flourish among others who celebrated individualism.

"I can't stress how important early intervention is. I also don't know how you shut your heart to these things."

Paul Smart is a father who writes for a variety of publications in the Hudson Valley.

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