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Flushing center aids parents of disabled

The Shield Institute in Flushing is offering something parents of developmentally disabled children often think of as inconceivable: a path to a secure future.

Halla Mae Brevard and Rachel Wise of the Shield Institute, a longtime leader in the field of autism and other developmental disabilities, said parents of disabled children rarely have the time to think outside of their day-to-day routine. But although the challenges facing these parents may be immense, Wise said failing to look at the road ahead may prove more costly than they realize.

"There's so many things to worry about," Wise said. "I think sometimes they don't even know what to focus on because there are so many things coming at you at once."

Brevard said that is where the Shield Institute can help. The agency located at 144-61 Roosevelt Ave. provides counseling for both parents and children, schooling, support groups, guest speakers and a host of information for parents who are overwhelmed by the daily challenges facing them.

"There's a lot going on in one building," Brevard said of the institute, one of four centers in the city run by the same organization. "We try to provide a safe atmosphere and environment where the parents can feel safe talking about how they're feeling."

The Shield Institute is a not-for-profit institution that provides services to more than 1,700 infants, children, adults and their families throughout New York City.

Brevard said one of the most successful services the Shield Institute offers are support groups, which provide a haven for parents to discuss their experiences and learn of new ideas and options from the staff.

"Not only do they have the opportunity to share with each other, but they also get a lot of info from us," Brevard said.

Wise said Shield has been placing an increased focus on planning for the financial and medical future of the parents' children, something that often gets lost in the shuffle of day-to-day life.

"I think a lot of times they're probably thinking, 'Oh the future, I can't think about that.' I think the support group shows them that they do have options," Wise said. "A lot of times they feel alone. Coming into these groups they're seeing that there's a lot of things they can do."

Sharon Kovacs Gruer, an attorney who specializes in financial and medical issues for children with special needs, was recently brought in by Brevard and spoke about the importance of foresight.

"The need for planning is becoming more acute," Gruer said. "Parents need to know that they should take steps to protect their child's future."

Gruer said it is especially important for parents to take care of guardianship issues, because after a child turns 18, medical and financial authority can be taken away from them.

"It's critical that any adult child who has the capacity to sign a health care proxy do so. With this document, parents have the authority to make medical decisions if their child is no longer capable, gain access to the medical records or have the adult child transferred to another hospital if necessary," she said.

For more information on the services available through the Shield Institute, call 718-939-8700.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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