DEC-Communicating and Connecting, Reflections by Amy Parker
Posted on November 17, 20162 comments 2548 Views
TRI's Amy Parker presented at the 2016 Division of Early Childhood Convention which took place October 18 - 20 in Louisville, KY. Below are her reflections of the her time there.
It was a great opportunity to attend the Division of Early Childhood's
(DEC) convention in Louisville, KY last month. In addition to having the
pleasure of seeing one of our TRI colleagues, Patti Blasco, lead from
the main stage, it was a delight to witness the energy of the DEC as a
group who was celebrating their 30 year advocacy and implementation
accomplishments for young children with disabilities and their families.
Public Law 99-457 requires states to make available appropriate and
free public education to children ages 3 through 5 who have disabilities.
Through the passage of public law 99-457, the policy landscape for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families was radically improved as services in natural environments, the integration of families within planning, and the recognition that all children can achieve was recognized nationally. Throughout the conference, DEC leaders reminded participants of this progressive theme and the celebrations of all that has been realized for the youngest members in our communities.
My reason for attending was two fold: to represent TRI as a person who has provided early intervention to children and their families; and as a representative of Dr. Charity Rowland, a faculty member from OHSU, who partners with TRI in developing and sustaining a virtual community of practice for family members and educators who serve people with complex communication needs (Communication Matrix). It seems appropriate in this reflection on DEC for me to focus on my experiences as an "expressive" and "receptive" communicator at this wonderful event.
Dr. Rowland's research was the foundation of my dissertation
Rowland has long been a hero of mine because of her innovations in
assessment and intervention for people with the most severe
disabilities. Like the DEC, Dr. Rowland has been developing tools that
recognize what people can do and has been focused on the power of
families as partners in supporting development in natural routines and
I used Dr. Rowland's research as a foundation in my
dissertation, which was a study on augmentative and alternative
communication for children with visual impairments and multiple
When I taught graduate courses, I integrated Dr. Rowland's communication matrix tool into several learning modules to empower teachers in training with this free and high quality resource. On a personal level, I came to know that Dr. Rowland herself is a sibling to someone with multiple disabilities, which is also something that we have in common.
Presenting on Dr. Rowland's behalf
I had the opportunity to present on Dr. Rowland's behalf with her
Research Assistant, Alexandria Cook, I was pleased to be able to share
some of the ways that her virtual community of practice is having an
impact on a whole new generation of families and educators.
Expressively, I chose the theme of supporting a family member named
Heather Withrow to serve as a guest moderator on the virtual community
of practice site.
Meet Heather and Orion Withrow
Heather is a culturally Deaf mother, an avid blogger and advocate. Her youngest son, Orion, is deaf-blind and she has shared lessons learned and family advice on the Communication Matrix community site. In the context of the presentation and with Heather's blessing, I used public videos of Orion to talk about his expressive communication. Through reviewing several video samples, the attendees were able to talk through the structure of the Matrix as a tool to recognize requests, refusals, social comments or questions no matter what form the child is using.
Please take a look at this wonderful video produced and shared by Heather Withrow that features her son effectively making requests in a natural routine.
By focusing on the child's and the parent's expressive communication, attendees were able to consider the ways that the Communication Matrix could be applied with their students, clients and families. Some described hosting events on the free virtual community where people could engage in themed dialogue for a period of time. Others described how diverse families can be empowered by using smart phones to capture their child's milestones and applying the Matrix framework to show what their children are communicating about with partners.
Dr. Jennifer Grisham-Brown from the University of Kentucky
at the DEC conferences I enjoyed listening to several thought provoking
presentations, but one that still resonates with me was a keynote
delivered by Dr. Jennifer Grisham-Brown from the University of Kentucky
on effective habits for teachers, families and researchers. Dr. Grisham
Brown stood on a rainbow colored stage to a packed audience and spoke
about how small changes in our habits of thinking and behavior can have a
profound impact in the lives of children with disabilities and their
She urged educators to recognize the power of instruction that is relevant and embedded in everyday routines. She called upon family members to find ways every day to celebrate their child's abilities and to see abilities when others fail to see them. Finally, she urged researchers to be listeners and to design studies that have social validity and practicality for educators and family members. When she concluded her talk, Dr. Grisham-Brown spoke of her work not only in the rural United States but in Guatemala, where the idea of inclusion has more recently been realized for preschoolers with disabilities.
DEC was a satisfying and empowering event for so
and receptively, the DEC was a satisfying and empowering event for so
many people. There is no greater gift than that of supportive
communication with our fellow human beings. For young children with
disabilities and their families, DEC is a responsive organization whose
leadership is both listening and speaking to the needs of an
Dr. Parker has over 20 years of experience in deaf-blindness.
She has a doctorate in special education with an emphasis in
deaf-blindness and is currently the Coordinator of Professional
Development and Products for the National Center on Deaf-Blindness
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