The Power of Parental Engagement
Ms. Yetta Myrick is the mother of a teenage son with special needs. She is the founder and president of DC Autism Parents (DCAP), a non-profit organization. At DCPA, Yetta has created programs for children diagnosed with autism and their families and oversees the daily operations of the organization. Yetta serves as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Act Early Ambassador to D.C. In this role, she promotes developmental monitoring and assists families in getting the help they need to access services for their children.
ED: How did you begin your work in early childhood?
My work in early childhood actually started through my experience as a parent of a child with special needs. I have a 16-year-old son who was diagnosed with autism in 2007, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in 2013, and an intellectual disability in 2015. My learning to support and advocate for him placed me in a unique position to learn about early childhood development and the education system, specifically special education.
ED: What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?
In 2009, I was invited by my son’s psychologist to serve as a member of the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) for the autism center where he was diagnosed. In this role, I provided recommendations to faculty and staff to assist in the planning, development, implementation and improvement of the center’s mission. My work with the PAC led to more opportunities to get involved in other disability advocacy work. In the spring of 2010, I was invited to serve on the District of Columbia (DC) Act Early Team for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Region III Act Early Summit held in Philadelphia, PA. At the summit, our team developed a logic model for improving access to services in DC, and I realized that I was the only non-faculty member, out of six states assembled, to lead a discussion and present the results of our team. Following the conference, I also served as a member of DC Act Early Autism Task Force. These opportunities not only allowed me to connect with other parents, but also connected me with leaders in the field of autism in DC. These connections helped me be able to influence important district and national level initiatives as a parent.
The following year in 2011, I was invited to serve as a parent faculty member for the DC Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) Program. In this capacity, I provided direct instruction to individual LEND fellows, allowing them to accompany my son and me to therapy appointments and individualized education program (IEP) meetings.
Since 2016, I have been serving as the CDC’s Act Early Ambassador to DC. As the state point-of-contact for the national “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” (LTASE) program, I support the work of DC initiatives to improve early identification of developmental delays and disabilities. When the DC’s Developmental Disabilities (DD) Council was developing its five-year plan, I worked with them to develop an objective around strengthening early intervention services by incorporating CDC’s LTSAE materials. I am currently working with the DD Council Executive Director and Office of Disability Rights Director to bring this plan to fruition. Life is so funny. Who knew all those years ago, when I attended a regional summit that I would one day be part of all these great efforts!
ED: What are some of the challenges you have experienced and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?
The largest challenges I have experienced have been around educators and professionals valuing my input as a parent. My degree is in communication, not education, psychology, occupational therapy, or speech therapy. I have worked really hard over the years to be engaged in spaces I did not always feel welcomed. I would show up, even when I did not always understand what was going on. I would sit and listen. Over time, things started to come together and began to make more sense. What I did not realize then, but know now, is that I am an expert, a parent expert. The reality is that parents are key to the work that educators and other professionals do. I deeply believe that parental involvement is the key to obtaining quality services for our children, and that an informed parent is an engaged parent. I strive every day to ensure families understand their value, because I know how it felt before I became empowered.
ED: What suggestions do you have for other parents who want to increase their engagement with educators and other professionals in the field?
I think the most important things parents can do to increase their engagement with educators and other professional in the field is to ask questions. Parents are the experts in their children, but we may not be an expert in the field of education. If something is not clear, ask a clarifying question. Who knows? The answer may not just help you, but other parents as well. Further, it may open the door to further dialogue with your child’s educator.
ED: What suggestions do you have for professionals and educators?
Parental involvement is key. Parents and caregivers know their children best and are experts in their children, and should be acknowledged as such. There is a reason why the parent is a member of the IEP team. They are your partners. Please do not speak to parents, but have conversations with them. Develop relationships with them. You may be surprised at what you discover.
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I am a grandmother of a 10 yrs old male. It’s been difficult since COVID being able to visit the school. The school has just last week allowed parents to enter the building without scheduling an appointment. He just had an IEP meeting two days ago, which always overwhelms me with the jargons and what services he is actually eligible for. The most important concern is to sure that he gets what is needed to sustain his place in such a forever changing world. It seems as if he is attending school but is he really get what is needed.
Awesome advocacy and wisdom Yetta!