Many individuals with special needs or disabilities rely on the support of specialists and professionals. But how can one be sure those experts have the proper training?

Amy Hardy, ACCENT social worker and referral specialist, who supports therapy professionals at Achievement Centers for Children in Highland Heights and Westlake, said her job encompasses many areas within the field.

“In my support services role, I take referrals for clients coming into the center,” she said. “I talk to them about their needs and what services would be best suited for them at the center. I’m an outpatient social worker, so I also see families at the center for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. I provide parent education – including learning about their child’s developmental needs and working with a therapist to carry things over at home. I attend meetings in the community, providing support, and attending things like doctor’s appointments.”

Hardy added she also provides direct support to families, whether it is when they are grappling with a new diagnosis in the family or if something is happening or changing at home.

“I’m that emotional support,” she said. “But, linking families with these services is a big part. I help them and guide them through the next steps. At our agency, there are so many different types of services. I’m just one of them.”

When asked about the best part of her job, Hardy noted the impact she sees in clients and their families.

“But the best part of the job is seeing that growth in a family’s experience over time, seeing where they begin and how they progress,” she said. “But the biggest surprise is the resiliency of our families and the parents alike. Despite being faced with challenges, no matter how great that obstacle is, I see them overcoming that and still growing. It’s all very rewarding at the end of every single day, knowing I make a difference.”

Knowing what goes into some of the roles in the disability support field is the key to individuals deciding if this is what they want to do, she added. After recognizing the work, Hardy suggested people get out and become involved in the disability community.

“The first thing to do is volunteer or have a shadowing experience at a nonprofit or organization that provides support for children and adults with special needs, to really see if it is something they are interested in,” she said. “Those are two things – volunteer work or shadowing. There are also different entry-level positions. I started as a direct care worker in college, assisting two individuals with cerebral palsy and I fell in love with the work. There are different areas to explore, so depending on what you want to pursue, contact a local college to see the programs they offer.”

Showing interest in an area is enough to start the journey and it’s important to feel that spark, Hardy said. That spark is what keeps people in the field, she added.

“The team I work with is one of the reasons why I stay,” she said. “Also, the reward of it is what has kept me there. It’s about being surrounded by that connection and strength, and we have the ability every day to empower families. We all stand by our mission. People who go into this field, we’re all feeling that together – that sense of community. It’s a very unique job in some ways.”

If someone wants to start exploring a career in disability support, Hardy said there are many directions to take. In addition to social work, she said people could also explore special education or therapy.

“There are so many directions you can take,” Hardy said. “The heart of it is getting exposed and getting to know and work with someone who has a disability. That opportunity will give you the chance to learn if it is something you want to do. Your heart needs to be in it too – you have to have that certain passion and drive. People can be blinded by only seeing the disability. As a worker in the field and being part of a team we identify and maximize the individuals’ strengths to empower them to achieve their greatest potential. We get to be a part of that change and it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.”

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