May 3, 2021

On Tuesdays in March, the HHSC Office of Disability Prevention for Children (ODPC) held a free, weekly virtual conference to promote National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

HHS employees, providers and families of people with developmental disabilities attended the inaugural HHS ODPC Statewide Virtual Conference, where expert presenters shared ODPC’s goal of promoting respect, fostering understanding and highlighting the importance of prevention and early intervention initiatives in the lives of children and families. 

“We were looking at ways to get the word out about our services and mission during the pandemic,” ODPC Project Manager Jay Smith said. “I started planning the conference last fall, along with the HHSC Office of Developmental and Independence Services. We decided each session would be themed to reflect the four focus areas in ODPC.”

These topics included:

  • Prevention of disabilities caused by maternal health issues through promoting healthy lifestyles and managing health conditions during pregnancy.
  • Prevention of disabilities caused by childhood injuries through raising awareness and implementing strategies to promote safety.
  • Early identification and diagnosis of disabilities to ensure early intervention, treatment and related services.
  • Promotion of mental health wellness in children with intellectual and development disabilities.

Over 1,200 attendees watched the webinars, with an average of 729 people per session. Many shared glowing reviews of the presenters and the format of one 150-minute session a week.

“We held the weekly sessions to cut down on fatigue,” Smith said. “It was really heartening to see how many providers, caregivers and family members were so interested and engaged in the topics.”

Several anonymous reviewers commented on psychologist Karyn Harvey’s presentation, “Trauma-Informed Support for People with Intellectual Disabilities,” saying it was “phenomenal” and that she has the “passion and knowledge base needed for us to truly help others.”

Harvey, who lives in Maryland, has worked in Texas with the Hogg Foundation and HHSC to train direct support professionals in trauma-informed care. Part of her presentation focused on PTSD.
“Sometimes we see the symptoms of PTSD as behavior problems, and without realizing it we blame the victim,” Harvey explained. “People’s symptoms can be misunderstood as deliberate behavior when they really need treatment.”

Harvey enjoyed the conference and noted that she felt connected to the audience and other speakers.

“You try to have an impact — you never know what’s going to open people’s eyes or if you can be that one extra voice someone needed to hear,” Harvey said. “When I have moments of I can’t do this, I remember it’s not about me. I can feel inspiration from others in the field and realize I can empower their voices.”