Partners In Learning hosts virtual special needs mini-conference

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 16, 2023

SALISBURY — Partners In Learning will have its annual Special Needs Mini-Conference on April 1 at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College from 8 a.m. to noon.

The annual conference is free for the community and geared toward parents and professionals. In addition, Rowan Innovative Approaches will co-host its Cradle to Career Transition Fair during the start of the conference.

“We wanted this mini-conference to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all families to receive resources, the latest research and information, for their child no matter the age,” said Cassie Karriker, the Partners In Learning clinical director, in a news release. 

This year’s theme is “Room at the Table.” 

“We want to ensure everyone has a place at the table,” Karriker said. “The table is meant to represent access to equitable opportunities. There is room at the table for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, mental health status or ability. The presenters will target providers, teachers and parents and what their place at the table means. Everyone deserves a place at the table. Sometimes, that means making different accommodations for the people at the table. That is what we plan to do at the conference, find ways to support the people at the table better.” 

The conference will cover topics relating to mental health, sensory needs, functional communication, parent perspective panel and educators panel for building relationships with caregivers.

“We must bring our community together to see their successes and areas where we still need support,” Karriker said. “The parent panel allows teachers and providers to hear what it’s like from their point of view at the table. Then, on the other hand, we will have educators that want to share their points of view from the table. It’s an opportunity for us to hear each other’s perspectives and support each other.”

This year’s keynote speaker is Salisbury author Theresa Parker Pierce, whose manuscript, ‘Up Dunn’s Mountain,’ won first place for young adult literature at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in 2020. 

Most recently, Pierce contributed three real-life stories to ‘Room at the Table: Encouraging Stories from Special Needs Families,’ published in the fall of 2022. Theresa tells her story of what it was like growing up with a brother who had special needs. In addition to her work as an author, she has 35 years of experience teaching reading and history in private and public schools.  

A graduate of East Carolina University, Pierce has a master’s degree in education from Catawba College. Two-time Rowan-Salisbury Teacher of the Year, Pierce enjoys storytelling about her childhood in eastern North Carolina and the history of Rowan County. Pierce will also give away several signed copies of her book.

Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC) will offer an informative presentation to help parents understand their rights and roles in the IEP process. Participants will learn how to prepare for and participate in meetings, understand and ask questions, and recognize the different roles of parents and school staff.

Elizabeth Webb, a licensed counselor, will discuss coping with your place at the table. She will share coping mechanisms to deal with the stress that can sometimes come from being around those tables as a parent or a provider.

Meanwhile, Jamie Guagliano will facilitate a panel of educators and providers and discuss how they build relationships with families and support families within their programs.

Katelyn Jones, a lead register behavior technician from Partners In Learning Behavioral Clinic, will explain the function of communication. Functional communication can use American Sign Language, pictures and devices to help communicate. Functional communication training aims to find the function of the behavior, an appropriate replacement behavior that embodies communication, and teach and maintain the skills to the clients to decrease their challenging behaviors.

Ashley Deaton is an occupational therapist, owner of One Step at a Time Therapy Company, and creator of Deaton Therapeutic supplies. Deaton plans to highlight ways to help your child during mealtimes. Mealtimes can be stressful for everyone at the table. Guests will learn more about what causes sensory aversions, how children with sensory aversions view mealtime differently, and ways to help their child begin to enjoy mealtime.

To wrap up the series of speakers, a panel of six individuals will share their perspective as a person with special needs or as a parent of a special needs child. Learn what they want you to know about their place at the table.

“This is our first in-person conference since 2019,” Partners In Learning Executive Director Norma Honeycutt said. “We have had it via Zoom, but it is not the same as meeting in person. Our annual conference is about so much more than learning. It’s about building relationships with each other. This event allows participants to interact with others experiencing the same thing. I’m thankful that Partners In Learning has provided this service to the community for many years.”

To register, go to or call 704-638-9020. You can also register at the conference.