DEC-Communicating and Connecting, Reflections by Amy Parker

DEC-Communicating and Connecting, Reflections by Amy Parker

Posted on November 17, 2016

2 comments 2863 Views
By Amy Parker

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.

Amy Parker, Ed.D.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.

Learn more about that history here.

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.

Expressive Communication

Dr. Rowland's research was the foundation of my dissertation

Dr. 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 settings.

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 disabilities. 

Professional photo of Amy Parker and her sister as very young girls

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

When 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.

Receptive communication

Dr. Jennifer Grisham-Brown from the University of Kentucky

A rainbow lit stage with a woman standing in the middle, in front of a sign that reads: But that's how I've always done it. Dr. Jennifer Grisham-Brown

Receptively, 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 families.

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 many

Expressively 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 international community.

Click here to learn more about the Division of Early Learning.

Click here to learn more about the Communication Matrix.

Amy T. Parker, Ed. D.

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 (NCDB).


Thank you Amy. This is a great post. I am especially interested in the comments Dr. Brown made about small changes making a big difference, and the importance of researchers being listeners and producing socially valid research. Orion is such a great kid, and I've enjoyed so many of the videos that Heather and family have produced. I know Charity appreciated you representing her!

Posted Nov 18, 2016 by Linda Hagood

Thanks Linda and for all the work that you do! Appreciate you!

Amy Parker

Posted Nov 18, 2016 by Amy Parker

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