Kodey Toney is the director of the Pervasive Parenting Center, an OSEP-funded Community Parent Resource Center in eastern Oklahoma that helps families support their children with disabilities. He is also the aRPy ambassador for Oklahoma. Most importantly he is a father and husband. He and his wife Jennifer have two sons, Konner and Kruz. Kodey has received multiple awards for his advocacy and has helped to train more than 3000 educators on autism behavior in the classroom and disability acceptance. Kodey has a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Rogers State University and a Master’s Degree in Education Administration from East Central University. He is also a graduate of the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking program and William and Mary’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy.
What do you remember most about your experiences getting engaged in your children’s education?
I remember the feeling of being in that first individualized education program (IEP) meeting, of sitting across from people who did not know my child and fearing that they did not have his best interest in mind. I felt powerless. That feeling prompted me to learn as much as I could about the IEP process and helping my child. In turn, I wanted to use the knowledge I gained to help other families that were going through similar experiences and relieve some of their anxiety. I also wanted to work with schools to help them better understand and serve the families.
Is there anything you would like to share with other families about your experiences?
We were told three things when Konner was first diagnosed that really stuck with me. We were told he may never talk or ride a bicycle, and that he would never succeed in an inclusive classroom. Thanks to speech therapy he can talk very well. He can’t ride a bicycle because of balance issues, but we just got him an adult tricycle and he has adapted and overcome that issue. He has only every been in an inclusive classroom, which took hard work and determination on all our parts. Konner just graduated from high school, received his certification from the local technology center, and will start college in the fall. Not bad for a kid that wasn’t supposed to do those things. I always tell parents that if you hear someone say your child can’t, finish that sentence with “yet.”
What are a few tips for families on getting engaged with education professionals at the program, school, or community level?
As simple as this sounds, just do it. Make sure to open lines of communication with the schools. About 90% of the issues I hear from parents and schools are a result of failed communication. Talk, listen, and be open minded, but also be firm in your advocacy for you child.
What would you like the educational professionals who worked with you to know?
When I go into an IEP meeting as an advocate, I’m not there for the parent or the school, but to do what is best for the child. I hope both educators and families can work towards what is best for the child. That’s what I hope education professionals understand about my work: I’m just trying to support everyone to do what is best for the child.
Do you see any barriers for fathers in engaging in their children’s education, and what suggestions do you have for early education professionals and educators who want to engage more fathers?
Sometimes, the biggest barriers for fathers are themselves, and holding on to an image of a child they wanted, one without a disability. That includes me. I am stubborn and was perhaps in denial about my child’s disability longer than most. It took me about two years to accept my child for who he is, but once I did everything seemed to open up for me and my work in advocacy. I had to realize that I was doing my child no good by wishing that he didn’t have a disability.
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