Baby G — Spreading Awareness

An OSERS Guest Blog post by Felipe Martinez, a father of a daughter with Down syndrome.

The Martinez family, including Baby G.

The Martinez family, including Baby G.

We started with 32 week old twins. Throughout that struggle, we had no idea what was yet to come. Eighteen months later Baby G was born. Our world was about to be turned upside down…again.

Upon receiving the preliminary diagnosis of Down syndrome, I was in shock. I had no clue about what doctors and nurses were telling me, and I had not even had a chance to speak with my wife, Amy, about the newest addition to our family. Upon receiving the news of possible heart defects, the Down syndrome diagnosis took a back seat. Our next mission was to get Baby G to gain some weight to be able to handle open heart surgery. The services were not available locally, so we had to make arrangements to leave town for two weeks. After the initial confusion and medical procedures, Amy and I finally had a chance to sit down and discuss our future. The twins were well, and Baby G had recovered from her major operation.

Baby G has played a major role in how we are spreading awareness today. She has brought a whole new meaning to celebrating life. She is the happiest human being we have ever met. She is the most loving person on the planet. This comes with a slight price, though. She has learned that her charisma can get her out of tasks that she would rather not do. It has been particularly difficult getting her to focus on school and academics.  Although she started early education when she was two and a half, she has never had an environment with a structured program in place. She is now five years old, and is having a difficult time adjusting to a public school system that offers more structure. After two Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meetings, we are still struggling to come up with a plan that will help her focus and learn.

Collaborating with school administration, Amy and I continue to establish a routine that comes home with her every day. We try to do the same types of activities and achieve the same goals at home and school. We, as parents, sometimes feel guilty for not implementing these types of strategies earlier in her life; it may have helped her adapt more easily to the new setting. There are no regrets, but through our experience, we can help other families avoid similar situations.

Five years have gone by, and I would not trade them for anything in this world. I am the President of the Down Syndrome Coalition for El Paso. Baby G has pushed me to be her best advocate. She has also taught me to live in the moment. Most importantly, I have learned that there are so many families that share a similar story. Our goal is to raise awareness so that no other family has to worry about its child’s future.

Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Education and such endorsements should not be inferred.

Challenges Not Barriers

An OSERS Guest Blog post by Jadene Sloan Ransdell, who has a son with Down syndrome.

Matt with his mother, Jadene

Matt with his mother, Jadene

I share my life with a son who has Down syndrome. His life has been filled with twists and turns that have helped to make me the person I am today. We’ve been through a lot—Matt and I—from the time we received his diagnosis and were encouraged to place him in a state institution, to residential placement in Germany while my husband served in the U. S. Army, to now—he is over 40.

Matt experienced delays in his development despite my dedication to keeping him stimulated and as active as possible. He took his first steps just before his third birthday and was finally toilet trained when he was nine years old. When Matt was a teen, he had a seizure in the shower. His use of words for communication was inconsistent, as he would gain a vocabulary and then lose it, several times throughout his life. He displayed many characteristics that resemble Autism, although he was not diagnosed until he was an adult. Over the years he has received several mental health diagnoses that now make sense with identification of early onset Alzheimer’s. There is much to share about that discovery, but I want to focus on Matt’s incredible accomplishments, despite the challenges that he has faced!

Matt left public school in 1996. We paid privately for him to attend a community program two days a week, although he wasn’t especially happy there. In late 1997, he received funding through a Medicaid Home and Community Based Waiver to pay for needed services. With that resource, he moved into his own home (with live-in support) and did something that he enjoyed. Of course, when he moved, I missed him terribly, but I knew that he deserved to grow up and lead his own life, just as his brother had.

Matt volunteering at the local VA hospital

Matt volunteering at the local VA hospital

About five years ago, he was given a chance to volunteer at the local VA hospital. It was a life-changing opportunity, as he takes incredible pride in his job. He loves working with his “soldier men” and the patients appreciate seeing him. The medical staff and other volunteers have told us that he is a wonderful asset. In fact, former Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young (deceased) formally thanked Matt for his service to the veterans and that tribute can be found in the May 20, 2013 Congressional Record!

I am proud of Matt and the path that he has walked. Some painted a bleak future for him. The recommendation of a day program and group home placement was not best for him, and I knew it. I worked tirelessly, encouraging people to discover the incredible person that I knew. And Matt worked hard, too. Even though he never spoke more than a few words at a time and had periods of unsettling behaviors, Matt has created a life that is beautiful and very meaningful to him, me, and the world. He has shown me there is always hope for the future!

Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Education and such endorsements should not be inferred.

To The Mother Who Just Learned Her Child Has Down Syndrome

An OSERS Guest Blog post by Eliana Tardio, a mother with two children with Down syndrome. 

Ayelen and Emir holding hands

Ayelen and Emir holding hands

I was five months pregnant and ready to learn my baby’s gender. All I wanted to know was which would be the best color to paint the walls of his or her room. I didn’t want to know anything else, really. I honestly didn’t know there was something else to be learned at that appointment. However, and because life is totally unexpected, his gender was unveiled alongside another big surprise. The doctor said, “He may have a genetic disorder.”

I saw the world breaking apart into small pieces right in front of my eyes. I felt an immense disappointment and a desperate need to blame someone or something. I blamed myself, and then I challenged God by asking him for a proof of his greatness. I wanted my child to be cured, just because at that point of my life, I was so supremely ignorant, that I just didn’t know that Down syndrome is not an illness, but simply a way to exist and to be.

The following months were tough. I remember living on a roller coaster of emotions between denial and surrender to the incredible love growing up inside my womb. As the day finally came, I didn’t feel any physical pain, because all I wanted to see was his face. I wanted to see how he looked. He didn’t cry, and so, I had only a few minutes to hold him in my arms before he was taken to the NICU. In those hundredths of seconds, I looked into his eyes, and that was enough to fall in love. Down syndrome and all, I realized that he was already the most amazing and perfect child, because he was mine, born from me and to me.

Emir and Ayelen together

Emir and Ayelen together

It has been 12 years since Emir was born. Three years after, Ayelen, my second child, was born. This time it was a girl, who was born with Down syndrome as well. To the mother who just learned her child has Down syndrome, I offer this:

  1. You may not believe me now, but even if you never dream of this moment, this may turn into your dream life.
  2. All these painful and confusing feelings you are going through right now are just a path to a total transformation of your soul and your heart. Be patient and don’t blame yourself. These feeling are not out of lack of love or acceptance of your child. They are instead a proof of how much you love him, and how much you have to learn.
  3. Yes, your child is going to be perfectly fine. He’s going to be happy, he’s going to be smart, he’s going to make you cry out of pride, and he’s going to become your reason to believe, your strength to fight, and your most amazing excuse to slow down and enjoy the small things in life.
  4. For sure, there are going to be tough times. Just as you are going to meet amazing people, you are going to be challenged by mean and indifferent individuals as well. They will both teach you something. The first, that everything is possible. The second, that everything can be possible but you have to hold the power to make it happen—and you will.
  5. Your child, as any other child, is going to be the reflection of your love, faith, devotion and hard work as a parent. Being a parent is never easy, but it is definitely worth it!

And in a couple of years, on top of all the things that typical parents do for their children’s well-being, you are going to be proud to be an advocate, a specialist, an expert and the one who defines his future, has the power to change what needs to be changed, and to create what hasn’t been built yet. You are the parent of an inspiring human being who has no comparison: Your child!

Congratulations for that!

Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Education and such endorsements should not be inferred.

Eliana Tardio, a proud mother with two children with Down syndrome, Emir and Ayelen. She works as a Program Director for the Parent Education Network and is well known as a diversity and Latino activist that works through her different online platforms to create awareness. Her English website is

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A mother with two children with Down syndrome, a Program Director for the Parent Education Network and is well known as a Diversity and Latino Activist.

Adventures with Lucas

An OSERS Guest Blog post by Kristina Hartsell, a military spouse who has a son with a diagnosis of ADHD.

The Hartsell Family at Disneyland with Mickey Mouse.

The Hartsell Family at Disneyland

I am married to an amazing Army man and together, we have an 8-year-old son named Lucas. He is our miracle child who happens to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Asthma, and sensory processing disorder. Every day is an adventure with him.

Having a child with ADHD, I learned a few things about myself and the world around me. First, I’ve learned that I have cat-like reflexes. I discovered this talent at one of my son’s doctor appointments. For some children, being cooped up in a room for a few minutes is fine, but for my son, it is an opportunity! An opportunity to touch everything he can, while also building his gymnastic skills. I use my cat-like reflexes to support his exploration and movement while also assuring his safety.

I’ve also learned how to multitask and make it seem effortless. I can carry on a conversation on three different topics in the mystifying world of video games, flipping back and forth multiple times within five minutes, while simultaneously cooking dinner and cleaning up toys. I must say that I am very proud of this talent—I know that I share it with many parents, but it is often more finely developed in parents of kids with ADHD! You will often hear me tell my son it’s my “superpower.”

Last, I have learned to be what he and I call a “defender of all things good and evil.” By that, we mean that sometimes we have to play the role of the “bad” guy for the greater good. I often have to decide what kind of defender I will be when meeting those who don’t understand my son’s behavior. While their words and attitudes can sometimes sting, I can make a decision about how to respond or even to respond at all. I have come to realize over time that I understand my son and will always be his advocate. Advocating for his needs often means letting him be who he is, the energizer bunny our family loves.

Many parents of children with disabilities share my superpowers and have superpowers that are uniquely their own. We are part of a club that treats everyday as a new day to help our children grow and flourish in their unique way. Having a close network of family and friends who understand our family has been very helpful to us. I’ve also learned to communicate my challenges and joys with my husband. As a military spouse, this is often hard to do because of frequent deployments and travel, and the need to develop my own communication skills. Lastly, I have found other parents and other families just like me and my family, and being able to share with them our journey has provided us with a lot of support.

If you’re the parent of a child with disabilities, as you set forth on your own adventure with your energizer bunny, you might be surprised how many other families share your path, and how much you can grow together.

Kristen Hartsell
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A military spouse who has a son with a diagnosis of ADHD

Raising Carly, My Child With A Learning Disability

A guest Blog post by Karen Laughlin, a parent educator at the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, the Parenting Training and Information (PTI) Center in North Carolina.

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly

In hindsight, I may have been a bit over confident when my third child came along. After all, her older brother and sister were happy kids and great students. Yes, Carly was a quirky little girl and she seemed to need more “handling” than I was used to, but we always thought that was because she was our youngest. She was clearly smart, funny, and likeable…except when she wasn’t, but didn’t all kids have ups and downs? This changed abruptly when her third grade class was learning multiplication. While other kids were earning the cherry on top of the banana split on the bulletin board by mastering 9’s and 10’s, Carly couldn’t get past the 2’s and had only a scoop of vanilla ice cream in her bowl. No amount of drilling at home helped, and she came home crying about her almost empty bowl every night. I was at a loss—if working harder didn’t help, what else could we do?

Fast forwarding to the present, Carly is 19 and we’ve known since she was about nine that her brain works differently—she has been diagnosed with both a learning disability in math and ADHD. Over the last ten years, I’ve learned a lot about both of those conditions, about brains, executive functions, and the ups and downs of special education. This all helped me to understand how a learning disability affects much more than learning academic skills, and I’ve used this knowledge to help Carly understand herself and to explain her LD/ADHD to others.

My most important lessons have been lessons of the heart, maybe even of the soul. I’ve learned to dig deeper as a parent and find the patience and understanding that Carly needed so that home could be a safe space after a long, hard, and often discouraging day at school. I’ve learned that there is no “one size fits all” parenting style for kids like Carly, and that I needed to be flexible in my approach to her. I’ve learned that however confusing it is to raise a child who is uneven in her abilities, it is much more challenging and confusing to BE that child every day.

As Carly struggled with so many aspects of high school, I had to confront my own expectations for her future, and to accept that each child finds her own path, and her own sense of timing. There are many good paths, and I am a better person for learning this lesson.

When I asked Carly what I should include in this post, she didn’t hesitate to answer, “Tell them that their kids are trying, even when they wish the results were better.” Did I forget to mention that besides having trouble relating to numbers, my daughter is a compassionate, insightful, loyal, and articulate 19 year old?  These qualities, more than any academic strength, will bring her joy in life, and isn’t that what all parents want for their children?

Karen Laughlin and Daughter Carly
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A parent educator at the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, the Parenting Training and Information (PTI) Center in North Carolina.

“Acceptance & Achievement: Because of my Dyslexia – Not In Spite of It”

Guest Blog post by Caida Mendelsohn

Caida Mendelsohn

Caida Mendelsohn

In early elementary school, I was aware that I was different from my classmates. I would get pulled out of class to work with and reading specialist. I took longer to finish worksheets in math class. I would stumble over words and make more mistakes than my classmates when reading out loud.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My parents made the choice to move me to a local school that specialized in dyslexic remediation. This school would help build skills that I could use to be successful, even with dyslexia. The teachers there understood dyslexia and tailored their lessons to meet our needs.

I was no longer self-conscious when reading out loud and I no longer worried about how long it took me to finish a worksheet. All of the other kids in my class were dyslexic. For the first time, I didn’t feel different or weird.

When I went back to a general education classroom, I was given basic accommodations for my dyslexic and ADHD. In my 6th grade earth science class, I began to feel different from the rest of my classmates again.

Every night for homework, we had to read and take notes from our texted book. In reality, the reading was probably only 10 pages but it felt like 100 pages. It took me so long to do my homework every night. I would get frustrated and cry over my text book, then cry to my mom, and then cry over my textbook some more.

None of my friends in class seemed to have the same problems doing the reading and taking notes. Everyone else had organized notes with highlighter and bullet points just like the teacher taught us to do. My notes were messy and almost incoherent.

Then one night, while doing earth science homework, I had an aha-moment. I stopped taking notes on lined paper and started taking notes on printer paper. I started organizing my notes graphically and using colored pencils. When I began taking notes like this, homework became less hard and I started retaining and understanding more of what I was reading.

I realized that I think and learn differently than my peers because of my dyslexia. So why I was trying to study and learn in the same way they were? I needed to use my creativity and try a different ways of studying and figure out how best I learn.

As a junior in college, I still take notes this way.  Being able to think differently, be creative, and adapt is what has made me a successful student. And the challenges I’ve faced have helped me become the advocate I am today.

Having ADHD and a learning disability like dyslexia has been a challenge in some ways, and a great teacher in other ways. I have learned to accept myself and the way I learn. I have learned to speak up for what I need. And I have learned the importance of encouraging others to do the same.

On the nights I cried over my earth science textbook, I never imagined I’d be where I am now. I never imagined I’d be living in Washington, DC, or that I’d have two amazing internship opportunities—first with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and now with the U.S. Department of Education.

But anything is possible.

My experiences have inspired within me a desire to ensure equity in education for all students, including students with disabilities. I want to ensure they, too, have access to the same opportunities as other students. Because one thing I’ve learned is that what you are given in life – even dyslexia or ADHD—does not determine who you are. But what you do with that determines everything.

Caida Mendelsohn is a junior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is originally from Decatur Georgia. At Smith, Caida is majoring in Government and minoring in Education and Child Studies. Additionally, Caida is working towards the teaching certificate for elementary education. It was Caida’s personal struggle with her learning disability that first sparked her interest in education and disability rights and advocacy.

“From Hidden Potential to Harvard”

Guest Blog post by Laura A. Schifter

Laura A. Schifter and daughter Ellie

Laura A. Schifter and daughter Ellie

At age seven, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Right after receiving my diagnosis, my parents were told they should not expect much from me and that I would not be successful academically. This assumption came, not from knowing me, not from observing my ability to think, but rather from the simple fact that I had dyslexia, meaning I struggled to read words on a page.

Today, I have a doctorate and teach at Harvard. And many other students with dyslexia find success, too. So why are these assumptions so widespread and expectations so low?

Reading is often seen as the most critical foundational skill in education. Reading is not simply required in English classes, but in all academic classes. This is why it is easy to assume that if a child struggles with reading, they cannot be successful in school. Fortunately for me, my parents did not accept the professional’s assumption as fact.

Growing up, my parents ensured I got the access and support I needed to be successful. My mother allowed me to learn by going to museums or watching videos. I got access to audio books from Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic, and my sister even recorded homemade audio books for me.

However, sometimes these accommodations could not provide the just-in-time support I needed. That’s when I would piece together information from my peers and try to get by. At best, I was able to successfully fake that I had completed the reading. At worst, I would be exposed as not knowing an answer and humiliated.

Even though I had some teachers who looked at me and only saw my barrier with reading, I also encountered many teachers who challenged assumptions and saw my potential. I had an English teacher who met with me before class to discuss the readings; a chemistry teacher who provided additional scaffolding with writing conclusions; and a history teacher who encouraged me to take the Advanced Placement (AP) exam even after I was rejected from the AP class because of concerns that the reading would be too challenging for me.  The exceptional teachers I encountered never lowered expectations for my success, but rather found ways to support me in meeting the expectations.

My experiences, with supportive parents and teachers, are common to many successful students with learning and attention issues and even students with disabilities more broadly. However, given the large achievement gaps for students with learning disabilities, these positive and supportive experiences are not common enough.

In schooling, we place a high value on reading because reading is an effective way to represent content. But it does not need to be the only way. In fact, advances in technology can make representing information in multiple ways easy.

For instance, in my graduate work, I learned about the screen reader embedded in my computer. This tool allows me to have immediate read-aloud support for any accessible digital text. I now use it all the time from reading journal articles to reading emails to proofreading my own work. There are also many other types of technology and accommodations that can make a difference for students with learning disabilities.

In order to fully leverage technology as a tool to help struggling learners, teachers need to not only learn how to use the technology, but also commit to making their lessons accessible to all learners. This commitment can only be successful if we shift our thinking. We must think not about the limitations of the child, but about the limitations in the curriculum.

This shift will change our assumptions and enable us to see past the child’s barrier to reveal the child’s potential. It will help so many more students like me succeed.

Laura A. Schifter, Ed.D., is a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, coauthor of How Did You Get Here: Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard, and a member of the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ Professional Advisory Board.

Previously, Schifter served in Washington, D.C., as a senior education and disability advisor for Rep. George Miller (D-CA) on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Schifter earned an Ed.D. in education policy, leadership and instructional practice and an Ed.M. in mind, brain and education from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has a B.A. in American studies from Amherst College. Schifter was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was 7.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Blog from OSERS’ Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner Janet LaBreck.

In recognition of National Disability Employment Month, I would like to share some exciting new opportunities for the vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, which is authorized by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As you know, WIOA was signed into law by President Obama on July 22, 2014 and is designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help Americans with significant barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, obtain high quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers. The changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of WIOA had a profound impact on individuals with disabilities, especially those with significant disabilities and students and youth with disabilities transitioning from education to employment. These provisions strengthen opportunities for individuals with disabilities to acquire the skills and supports necessary to maximize their potential and enter competitive integrated employment. The final implementing regulations for the VR program adhere to three key goals:

  1. Align the VR program with the workforce development system;
  2. Strengthen VR’s focus on competitive integrated employment; and
  3. Expand VR services to students and youth with disabilities.

While these are many new opportunities and innovations under WIOA, I would like to share just a few that I believe will have a positive impact on employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities:

Strengthened emphasis on competitive integrated employment (CIE):


  1. The definition of “competitive integrated employment” in the implementing regulations has three major components related to competitive earnings, integrated locations, and opportunities for advancement.

Emphasis on transition services, including pre-employment transition services:


  1. WIOA expands the population of students with disabilities who may receive services and the kinds of services that the VR agencies may provide to youth and students with disabilities who are transitioning from school to postsecondary education and employment.
  2. WIOA emphasizes the provision of services to students and youth with disabilities to ensure they have opportunities to receive the training and other services necessary to achieve competitive integrated employment.
  3. WIOA increases opportunities to practice and improve workplace skills, such as through internships and other work-based learning opportunities.

Emphasis on employer engagement:


  1. RSA has begun the process of working with employers through a series of Round Table discussions that were held in FY 2016. These focused on the following sectors:
    • Federal contracting,
    • healthcare,
    • banking, and
    • information technology sectors.
  2. RSA will continue to work with state agencies to increase employer engagement.
  3. RSA encourages State VR agencies to meet employer needs by focusing on working with human resource firms and organizations that focus on diversity and talent acquisition.

Collaborative opportunities to work with partners across the workforce development system:


  1. WIOA promotes program alignment at the Federal, State, local, and regional levels; establishes common performance measures across core programs; encourages common data systems across core programs; builds on proven practices such as sector strategies, career pathways, regional economic approaches, work-based training; strengthens alignment between adult education, postsecondary education, and employers; strengthens transition services and supports for students and youth with disabilities; and emphasizes the achievement of competitive integrated employment by individuals with disabilities.
  2. Federal Partners—RSA is working with various partners at the Federal level, including the other WIOA core partners (Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services), and other Federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  3. State agencies are collaborating and partnering with a variety of organizations to bring about improvements, including state and local workforce development partners, disability specific training and education programs (e.g. Gallaudet University, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and the Florida State University’s Visual Disabilities Program, research and training programs (e.g. the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University, innovative work based learning programs (e.g. Café Reconcile, Student Transition to Employment Project), and many other partners.

RSA’s new focus on technical assistance and demonstration projects:


  1. To provide leadership and resources to grantees and stakeholders, RSA created a series of training and technical assistance centers (TACs) and demonstration projects to assist state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and their partners in providing VR and other services to individuals with disabilities.
  2. Focus on Career Pathways—In FY 2015, RSA awarded a grant to focus on Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID) model demonstration program in Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate replicable promising practices in the use of career pathways to enable VR-eligible individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities, to acquire marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials and to secure competitive integrated employment in high-demand, high-quality occupations. Program activities are being designed and implemented in partnership with secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, American Job Centers, workforce training providers, social and human service organizations, employers, and other Federal career pathways initiatives.
  3. Identifying new models and looking forward—Automated Personalization Computing Project (APCP)—The purpose of the APCP is to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities by increasing access to information and communication technologies (ICT) through automatic personalization of needed assistive technology (AT). Under the APCP, an information technology (IT) infrastructure would be created to allow users of ICT to store preferences in the cloud or other technology, which then would allow supported Internet–capable devices they are using to automatically run their preferred AT solutions. This IT infrastructure will ultimately provide better educational opportunities, ease transitions between school and the workforce, and improve productivity in the workplace.

I am confident that these innovations and opportunities will result in improved employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. I look forward to seeing what other innovations are yet to come, and invite you to look ahead with me.

Madison Essig and Susie Nevin — Early Learning Making a Difference

Guest Blogs by Madison Essig and Susie Nevin

Madison Essig

Madison Essig

Madison Essig

I was born with Down syndrome. I began receiving early intervention services when I was eight months old. I have low muscle tone, so occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) services were a necessity. OT helped me to learn how to hold a spoon so that I could feed myself and later hold a pencil to write. PT helped me to develop the strength to crawl and sit in a chair and walk. My speech therapist helped me to develop my oral motor skills to prepare me to speak. At the same time, knowing that my speech would be delayed, she taught me and my mother sign language to help me communicate. My mother says that this was essential to my development, as I was capable of so much more than my not talking would indicate. She believes that the first years of a child’s development are critical, so she made sure I accessed every possible early intervention service I was able to. My therapists gave us exercises to do at home, which we did faithfully.

After graduating from early intervention at two years old, I went to a preschool program where I received special education services. My backpack was bigger than I was. My teacher, Ms. Trudy, knew I used sign language, so she and the other teachers supported me by using it at school. I was able to sign colors and animals and please and thank-you and so much more. I was able to start reading in preschool using signs and developed the language basis I needed to succeed later. Ms. Trudy pushed me to do a lot for myself so I could become independent in navigating the school and ready for kindergarten. I continued to receive occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT) and speech therapy services in preschool. My therapists helped me work on things directly related to my school experience, like writing and putting on my coat and learning to pronounce words clearly so that I was understood.

My early intervention services and special education preschool services provided the foundation that enabled me to be fully included in regular education classes throughout elementary school, middle school and high school. I graduated from Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., with a full diploma and a 3.7 GPA. I am now a student at George Mason University in the MasonLife Program and want to pursue a career advocating for people with disabilities. No one knows what a young child will be able to achieve, so they must have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Madison Essig

Susie Nevin

Susie Nevin

Susie Nevin

Happy Birthday, Part C!  I’m so glad you were born!  In 1986, as this law was being enacted, I was in the 6th grade, completely unaware of how the Part C early intervention program would impact my life. Early intervention became my life’s work, and for that I am humbled, proud and grateful.

I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and received my undergraduate degree in Child Development and Family Studies. I was introduced to early intervention by a group of dedicated faculty members whom I consider to be pioneers in this field.  I remained at UIUC and earned my Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education with an emphasis on Infant Education in 1997. I never looked back.

Since then, I have met thousands of families—wonderful caregivers and beautiful infants and toddlers—in my role as a Developmental Therapist. I have listened to their unique stories, smiled proudly as they celebrated victories, and held their hands as they endured setbacks and faced fears. Not a day has passed that I haven’t been grateful for the perspective I gained from every family and every child.

That perspective served me well in 2002, when I gave birth to twin girls, two months premature. Suddenly, I was no longer the helpful professional, but a frightened parent. My family received amazing care as my daughter Lily navigated her way through speech therapy and occupational therapy services. I was so grateful for that care, and I owe much of her success to her experiences in early intervention.

This 30th anniversary of Part C is truly a celebratory occasion!

Susan A. Nevin

Madison Essig
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Student at George Mason University in the MasonLife Program
Susie Nevin
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M.Ed., Developmental Therapist, parent

Pettrice Lewis and Brittney Dixon — Early Learning Making a Difference

Guest Blogs by Pettrice Lewis and Brittney Dixon 

Pettrice Lewis

Neo Lewis

Neo Lewis

Eight years ago, our tiny bundle of joy Neo Lewis, arrived at 26.5 gestational weeks. He was immediately diagnosed with significant hearing loss, and within months, eye cancer which claimed most of his vision. Before leaving the hospital from his extended stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, we were told that we would be contacted by someone within the District of Columbia’s early intervention team, but had not yet grasped what that meant. We only knew that we were suddenly thrust into a new world, as a family with a child with special developmental needs, and ongoing health issues.

Within a few weeks, we received a phone call from our D.C. early intervention specialist. She visited our home, patiently outlined the benefits of early intervening strategies, explained services that were available for our son, and connected us to the appropriate service providers. In the days to come, we were assigned therapists and specialists—most of whom provided services within our home. In the ensuing months, our little bundle flourished as he received needed therapies that contributed to his achieving and surpassing age-adjusted milestones. Through those early years, we felt that we were part of a team that enabled us to navigate the labyrinth of services, and connect us to a network of organizations and other families.

Now a second-grader, our son is flourishing at school and in life. He loves giving high-fives to his teachers when he correctly answers questions, and playing with friends on the playground. At home, he enjoys riding his bike, dancing to music, or curling up with a favorite book. We feel very fortunate that our son and our family were able to benefit, from engagement with early childhood intervention.

Pettrice Lewis

Brittney Dixon

Brittney Dixon

Brittney Dixon

While working for the North Carolina Infant Toddler Program I have had many opportunities to work with individuals with disabilities and their families. On a daily basis I evaluate, plan and implement assessment tools and strategies to help children achieve the best possible day to day routines and outcomes. I chose the field of early intervention because my family is a living example of the positive impacts early intervention can have on a child and their family.

My older brother, Brandon, was born at 26 weeks gestational age and weighed 2lbs 4oz. The doctors told my family he would probably never walk on his own and would have limited learning abilities. With the support of early intervention, he was able to overcome those challenges early on. Before starting school he was running around effortlessly and demonstrating many early literacy concepts. Brandon has continued to impress and surprise us year after year. He will turn 31 this October and has graduated college, gotten married and has a successful career in aviation. There is no doubt in my mind that early intervention played a vital role in my brother’s success story.

I work in early intervention to support children and families similar to my own so that each of them can have their own success story. I enjoy advocating for and helping families navigate the unfamiliar territory of early intervention and having a child with a developmental delay or disability. Birth through three is an important age for a child’s growth and development so the earlier we start helping young children and their families, the better the outcome!

Brittany Dixon