By Cherie Takemoto, PhD
October 8th marks the 30th anniversary of Public Law 99-457 that expanded the special education law to cover infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities. The law recognizes families as pivotal to the success of babies and young children with developmental disabilities. Early intervention and special education services definitely made a difference for my son, Pete – who is now 28 years old. Pete was born with the rare, genetic Costello syndrome, which is associated with ongoing global delays in development.
While the focus of early intervention and special education services pertains to children like Pete, I want to talk about how this law made a difference for me. I found Pete’s progress to be heart-wrenchingly slow because his disabilities were so significant. His early intervention staff encouraged me to dream of an optimistic future for him and focus my advocacy on that dream. So, I did. My first experience as an advocate did not turn out very well. I attended a public comment meeting and sobbed through my testimony. However, after that, I found the more I spoke, the stronger my voice became. Soon, I became a parent representative on the local early intervention coordinating council; and then co-led a parent support group.
My voice continued to strengthen as I connected with parent representatives in neighboring jurisdictions and I started to realize that—as a group—we had formidable influence. We jointly produced a video about the power of early intervention and one of the parents got her state senator to air the video in the state capital during a General Assembly session. To become mandated for all, the early intervention legislation had to be approved by the General Assembly. Though the conventional wisdom was that it would take at least two years for the General Assembly to act, our message, “Babies can’t wait!” was so convincing that the legislation passed the mandate on our first try.
Since those early days, I have been a disability advocate and teach an early childhood families class for future teachers. I tell my students that when young children have disabilities, teaching them to walk or to talk may not be as important as what they do to help guide parents, like me, on a positive path to become lifelong advocates for their children. Early on, Pete’s teachers encouraged me to dream about a positive future for him, despite his lack of early progress. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of early intervention and preschool services for young children and their families, let’s salute those who continue to encourage families to dream of positive futures for their children, and the importance of their advocacy in making those dreams come true.
Below is an announcement from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education (ED):
Throughout the week of October 3–7, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs will run a campaign showcasing many perspectives from the field, including researchers, families, practitioners, and even individuals who participated in early childhood services through Part C early intervention and Part B, Section 619 preschool. The week will culminate in a Google Hangout to discuss how the law has impacted the early childhood field, on Friday, October 7th at 2:00 p.m. EDT.
To view the Google Hangout, click on the link below:
[OSERS recommends you use your most up-to-date browser for viewing]
More of the celebration will continue on the OSERS Blog, YouTube channel, and the Department’s early learning website throughout the week. Please take this opportunity to discuss and share how IDEA services have impacted you!