Event Focuses on Helping Neurodiverse Students Succeed at Every Age and Stage
The 9th annual annual Diamonds in the Rough Conference is happening this Friday and Saturday at the John Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus. This unique special education-focused training and networking event hosted by Weinfeld Education Group is in its 9th year. Major conference sponsors include: Commonwealth Academy, McLean School, The Dorm, Fusion Academy, The Auburn School, FLOREO, PrepMatters and TLC’s The Katherine Thomas School.
The conference kicks off Friday with a CE workshop for professionals on the topic of neurodiversity, presented by Dr. David Black, pediatric neuropsychologist and director of the Center of Assessment and Treatment (CAAT). Licensed social workers, therapists and other professionals will gain 3 CE credits, offered through a partnership with the Maryland Psychological Association. On Saturday, the full-day conference launches with an inspirational keynote address provided by Debbie Reber, bestselling author, parenting activist and founder of the online community and top podcast series TiLT Parenting. Local test prep and tutoring service PrepMatters is sponsoring the keynote speaker this year.
The theme for 2019 is “Parenting Children with Special Needs: Preparing to Launch at Every Age.” Speakers have been especially selected to represent all the major ages and stages of a child’s educational journey. “We’re covering a lot of ground here,” WEG’s Executive Director Rich Weinfeld notes, “We know every school year of a child’s life is important, and yet those times of major change are monumental. Getting big transitions right can really set a student up for success.”
To encompass all the various ages and stages, from pre-K to young adulthood, WEG lined up 44 expert speakers to participate in panel discussions and presentations throughout the day. Special topics on launching for twice exceptional students, students with mental health challenges, and students on the autism spectrum will take place during an extended lunchtime break. The diverse pool of presenters includes: representatives from Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College; administrators, admissions directors and educators from private schools; special education advocates; several mental health professionals; and a state-level representative from the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration.
Consultants and organizations with specialized skills in transition support for college, employment and independent living will be featured. A panel of experts in special education law and finance will present on financial considerations and planning for families with special needs dependents. Finally, Rich Weinfeld will close out the day with a panel of “already launched’ young adults, sharing what has worked in their lives, and what helps them to be successful. “I’m proud of the range of expertise we have this year in terms of our speakers. And ending the day with a panel of young people really drives home WEG’s mission, which is to have all children realize their unique potential,” Weinfeld said.
Adding to the excitement of the day will be a bustling exhibit hall. “I’m excited for the exhibit hall this year,” WEG’s associate director Jennifer Engel Fisher remarked. “There’s a plethora of resources for attendees. Everyone - parents, educators and providers - will make a new contact or take away something useful.” The hall is at capacity with 33 exhibitors, representing state and local service organizations, private schools, advocacy groups, child development and mental health, student assessment and test preparation services, and even a virtual reality company. Book sales and signings will take place. Debbie Reber will sign her book, Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World. Another book, The Self-Driven Child, will also be featured in the exhibit hall, with its co-author Ned Johnson on hand to sign copies and meet parents. As part of Saturday’s festivities, WEG will also host a silent auction, benefiting its featured charity, International Partners’ Palo Grande Education Center in El Salvador.
In 2010, Rich Weinfeld and his team saw a need to bring parents, educators and providers together across Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia to learn, connect and build relationships. That remains the goal of the Diamonds in the Rough Conference to this day. While there are many conferences, some past attendees report that attending the Diamonds in the Rough was a particular turning point for them. As one attendee shared last year, “the information presented at this conference was a game changer in terms of building a positive, empowered perspective so that I can effectively advocate for my son.”
Interested in attending and not yet registered? Online ticket sales for the conference have closed, but WEG will welcome walk up registrations on both Friday and Saturday at full price. Exhibit hall only passes can also be purchased at the door on Saturday. To learn more, visit www.diamondsintheroughconference.com
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