Sadia Batool is a physician with a current focus on supporting families and professionals in Early Childhood Systems. Her passion for Early Childhood systems stems from her personal experience of receiving life changing early intervention services for her daughter with autism.
1. What do you remember most about your experiences with early intervention?
I’m an immigrant so that makes my experience even more special. The supports that I have received have been transformational for my daughter and my family, especially coming from a background which looks very different from what we have here in the United States. I was in the second year of my pediatric residency when I moved to the United States.
My role as a new mother was a very special moment. I did not have a big village because all my family was in Pakistan and my husband had a few family members here.
When my daughter turned one, we started to see some red flags for autism, and as a physician I was quick in identifying. Medicine teaches you how to diagnose a condition, but it doesn’t teach you how to navigate a life with the diagnosis. In my medical career I did not have a firsthand experience working with a family that had a child with a disability. I didn’t have any friends or family here in the United States that had children with disabilities. I did not know where to go or who to ask for help, so when the early intervention staff started working with our family it felt like light came into our life. If I had to say one thing about my early intervention experience, it would be coming out from dark to light.
2. What skills did you gain during the early years that influence you currently?
I had an opportunity through my local early intervention program to receive a scholarship to attend the Penn State National Autism Conference. At that time, I did not have any connections with families outside of Lancaster County. At the conference was the first time I saw and heard the term “family leader”, and I did not know what that meant. I saw a mom talking about her experiences and sharing how she was supporting other families. I was so inspired by her story that I knew I wanted to do what she was doing. I had planned to resume my career as a physician when my daughter transitioned to elementary school. However, at that particular moment, I thought that maybe I would want to do something else.
I connected with a state initiative for family engagement. This program supports families in their role as parents and caregivers as well as connects them to professional development opportunities. Once I connected with that program, I was provided with opportunities to better educate myself and inform my role as a parent advocate for my daughter and as a family leader at the state and the local level. I was connected to the State Interagency Coordinating Council and was invited to share my early intervention experience.
Getting involved with these opportunities changed life for me. I was learning so much about early intervention and special education. I was also connecting with other families and most importantly, I was connecting with professionals across the state.
I had all these professionals that had inspired me over the last 4 years, and I just couldn’t see myself dissociating from the work that I was doing as a family leader. I was part of so many advisory council committees and it all came from the state early intervention program. They were the ones who not only provided me with the information that opportunities existed, but they actually prepared me for it by providing trainings. By giving me the tools, they helped me become the advocate and the family leader that I am today. They helped me understand that I too, could be a leader.
I’m so excited to share that somebody who was once supported by the system and served by the system is now part of the system. I know that there are challenges and what families are struggling with. I want to bring that voice to the state level because I know the state is listening. They are doing everything they can to support families and making sure that families are involved in the system at every step.
3. Is there anything you would like to share with other families about your experiences?
I think the one thing that I really want to share with families is to take every opportunity that’s out there to better educate and inform yourself of the service system because we can only be better parents and advocates for our children if we are well informed. It is really important. I did not come with any understanding of the early intervention system and what was transformational for me was to educate myself on what the services are, what early intervention is, and what are my daughter’s rights.
The other thing I would like to say to families is connect with other families. Make intentional efforts to connect because that was another thing that helped me. If I did not have the support of other families that have children with disabilities, I would not be here where I am both as a parent and as a person. I would have lost my hope a long time ago.
4. What would you like the professionals who worked with you during the early years to know?
I think especially for the professionals in the early years, I just want to first of all say thank you to them for the work they are doing because they are building the foundation for future success and well- being not just for that child, but for that entire family.
The professionals that supported me walked the path with me and not in front of me or behind me. They were hand in hand with us going through all the highs and the lows. They were there to celebrate our successes and support us in our challenges. Families want reliable, two-way, ongoing communication. That is what has helped me, and I hope that is what professionals know other families want to experience as well.
It’s not the perfect world for anyone. However, it is important to have a team that you know is understanding, and where they think of parents as equal partners and the leader of that team; not just a person at the table.
Sadia Batool is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning Policy Fellowship program and serves as a family and professional representative on a variety of local, state, and national organizations. Sadia is committed to supporting families, parent leadership development, and meaningful family engagement. She currently works in the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning as Early Childhood Family Lead for Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems, and is working to coordinate, implement, and sustain an equitable, comprehensive, system that promotes early developmental health and family well-being.
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Sadia’s journey and the work she does is transformative. It is important for family leaders to give back and teach others how to advocate for their children. Education and connection is how to impact the future.
Thank you Sadia!