Making Progress for All Learners through LEAP

Making Progress for All Learners through LEAP

The LEAP program at Cherry Park Elementary in Southeast Portland is one of a handful of inclusive preschool programs in Oregon. Originally designed to support children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the evidence-based model has been so effective that Principal Kate Barker has expanded it to upper grade levels.

LEAP (an acronym for Learning Experiences–an Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Parents) was created at the University of Colorado Denver in 1981 and aims to educate children with ASD alongside their typically developing peers. Programs like LEAP take a comprehensive, integrated approach to educating children in the early years, based on a growing body of research that supports inclusive education practices for children with disabilities.

Inclusion is Key

Very simply, LEAP proponents and researchers have found that children with ASD learn better alongside their typically developing peers, especially in the development of social and communication skills. A unique component of LEAP is that it trains typically developing peers to act as facilitators, or interventionists, in the classroom.  Research shows that typically developing children also benefit from the program, showing higher levels of social competence compared to their same-age peers.

As Barker tells it, “This model works for all children and in all my many years of education, this is the most powerful model I have seen for young learners, including children with non-ASD disabilities and English language learners.”

Peer-to-Peer Learning 

It’s story time in Max Striplin’s preschool class and students are holding pictures that correspond to the book they are reading.  When a girl named Olivia sees her picture come up in the book, she stands up and places her picture on a Velcro story board. 

A few pages later, JJ’s picture comes up. Olivia knows that JJ experiences autism, and may not be able to complete the same task independently. 

Olivia approaches JJ and uses a visual cue card to let him know it is his turn. When he doesn’t stand up, she gently touches his elbow and lifts his arm toward the story board.

Peer-to-peer learning is a key component of the LEAP model

The subtle physical prompt combined with the visual materials help JJ to stand up and put his picture on the story board.

The students cheer for JJ and Striplin praises Olivia for being “a great helper and friend.”

“If we didn’t have LEAP … we would not have the same level of success mainstreaming children with disabilities in our school. We are sending children up through the grades who, before LEAP, would almost certainly have been placed in self-contained classrooms,“ said Striplin.

 

An example of visual materials used in the classroom

LEAP at Cherry Park 

Cherry Park students speak 26 different home languages, with 75 percent of families living below the poverty line, and 13 percent of students receiving special education. 

The school now operates four LEAP preschool classrooms. Each class cohort is comprised of 12 “typical peers” and five special education students. Children attend school for half a day, four days a week. (Wednesdays are reserved for meetings and home visits.) Other than a $20 supply fee, the program is free and offers transportation.

Teachers have training in early childhood special education and work with two assistants. Students have access to services from a physical therapist, speech therapist, behavior coach, occupational therapist, and mental health and other support specialists throughout the week. 

Multiple Benefits Drive Expansion

Early literacy assessments from 2018 showed that all students who participated in the preschool at Cherry Park hit grade-level benchmarks by the end of kindergarten. At the end of 2019, all but one child reached grade-level benchmarks. Additionally, the school has seen a sharp reduction in behavioral referrals since LEAP was introduced—from 40 down to just six this past school year. 

Barker has been so impressed by the outcomes  that she now dedicates K–5 general funding and professional learning time to bring LEAP strategies into kindergarten and upper grade classes.

Soobin Oh, senior early education advisor for Children’s Institute notes that in adapting LEAP strategies up to later grades, Barker and her staff are addressing instructional alignment through inclusion. That novel approach is of particular interest to him and CI as we launch Early School Success—a new initiative that seeks to improve early grades instructional alignment through district and community-wide approaches.

Funding Considerations

Inclusive programs like LEAP can offer services for special education students in a more cost-efficient manner than one-on-one instruction because the approach improves child outcomes across multiple areas of development.

The ability of administrators to creatively braid multiple sources of funding, as Barker does, is also notable as Oregon struggles to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities. A lawsuit filed in January by Disability Rights Oregon and others cite disparities in instructional time and other supports for children with disabilities, including ASD.

Starting next year, Oregon will invest more in services for young children with diagnosed disabilities and delays.  The Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) and others helped ensure the Student Success Act included full funding for Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education. The ECC pointed to research that showed earlier intervention resulted in special education cost savings down the road. Only 13 of 198 school districts in the state graduated 81 percent or more of high school students with special needs in 2018.

 

Learn More About the LEAP Preschool Model

 

Parents, Educators Call for “More Time, More Hours” to Improve Early Special Education Outcomes

Rural Parents Scramble to Get More Special Education for Young Kids

Rural Parents Scramble to Get More Special Education for Young Kids

Miles Wolpoff, 5, with his family, photo courtesy of Darcy Jeffs. Photo by Dan Haberly.

One Oregon couple in a rural town south of Eugene sends their 3-year-old autistic son on a two-hour round trip bus ride so he can attend a special state-sponsored preschool.

A couple living on the coast rent an apartment in Eugene where the mom lives during the week so their 4-year-old autistic son can get services beyond what the state provides.

A single-mom on Oregon’s eastern border makes 90-minute round trips two or three times a week to the Boise area in Idaho so her son with Down syndrome can get therapy unavailable locally. 

Oregon Lacks Resources for Young Kids With Special Needs

Administrators and parents say Oregon lacks resources and professional staff to adequately help young children with special needs, especially in rural areas where services are strained by distance, limited public transportation, a scarcity of therapists and language barriers.  

As required by federal law, the Oregon Department of Education provides early intervention for children under 3 with developmental delays and disabilities and early childhood special education for children 3 to 5 until they enter kindergarten. The Early Intervention/ Early Childhood Special Education (EI/ECSE) program operates through Oregon’s education service districts (ESDs) and their contractors to help children with physical, cognitive and social-emotional development.

But providers and parents say Oregon’s resources have not kept pace with rising costs and a growing number of young children eligible for services.  By investing more in these children early, Oregon could reduce the number needing special education later, says Judy Newman, director of Early Childhood CARES, which is based at the University of Oregon and contracts with Lane ESD to provide education and therapy services for 1,500 children countywide.    

“We know from brain development research, the earlier we get on this, the better chance we have of minimizing or eliminating problems,” says Newman.     

But sometimes in Oregon, especially in rural areas, it is not so easy to act early.

The Long Bus Ride

Jessilyn and Nathan Whiteman discovered the formidable challenge of getting services for their autistic son, Christopher, when he reached his third birthday. Until then, the Douglas ESD based in Roseburg sent specialists 40 miles north to the Whiteman’s home in the small town of Drain to help Christopher with speech and occupational therapy twice a month.

But once the boy turned 3, he had to go to the ESD’s special education preschool in Green, a small town just south of Roseburg, for services.

Jessilyn, 35, works at an insurance company in Drain and her husband, Nathan, 36, works for a railroad company on the Oregon coast. Neither could take Christopher to the preschool. So, on the advice of professionals, they reluctantly put him on a small bus alone and sometimes as sole passenger for two-hour roundtrips to the Green preschool twice a week. Strapped in his seat on the long bus rides, Christopher sometimes screamed, threw his shoe at the bus driver, and vomited.

Christopher Whiteman, photo courtesy of Jessilyn Whiteman.

 “There were things he liked about it,” says Jessilyn. “But to go to a two-hour preschool, he would be gone four hours…Too much.”

Administrators elsewhere in Oregon, however, say it is not uncommon for parents to put their 3- and 4-year-old children on long bus rides for special education services. Children, for example, sometimes ride an hour from rural outskirts of the 688-square-mile Columbia County to preschools supported by the Northwest Regional ESD in five cities, says Cindy Jaeger the county’s EI/ECSE service center administrator.

The Whiteman’s have since moved into the big, boxy home Jessilyn grew up in among trees and fields on the edge of Yoncalla, a small town six miles from Drain. Now four mornings a week, Christopher attends school at Yoncalla Elementary, both in the preschool established with help from the Children’s Institute’s Early Works program years ago and in a second special education preschool the Douglas ESD recently opened there. The ESD also gives Christopher a weekly half-hour of speech therapy. Having him close has produced enormous benefits, says Jessilyn, who also home schools her older son.

“If he is having a meltdown at school,” she says, “I can just drive over there and get him.”

Once a week, Jessilyn drives her son 44 miles north to Eugene for an additional hour of speech therapy. Despite his dramatic improvements in speech and behavior, she says she wants to somehow do even more for Christopher.

“I’m nervous about kindergarten,” she says, “because I’m not sure he’s ready.”

Some, But not Enough

Like the Whitemans, rural parents across Oregon get state help for their young children with special needs, but many feel it is just not enough.

In Tillamook County, for example, the Northwest Regional ESD provides early intervention visits to children under 3 only one hour a month, though occasionally two hours a month for children with severe needs, says Kim Lyon, the county service center administrator. The ESD operates preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds only two hours a day twice a week.

Services are “very limited,” Lyon says.

Neighboring Columbia County has seen the number of children qualifying for services jump by 49 percent, from 150 to 223, over the last two years with a minimal budget increase, says county administrator Jaeger. The county employs “excellent professionals,” she says; “There are just not enough of them.”

Early Childhood CARES, the program directed by Judy Newman, operates a preschool in the coastal town of Florence that was a godsend for Miles Wolpoff, the 5-year-old son of Darcy Jeffs, 39, and her fiancé, Kevin Wolpoff, 42.

Miles Wolpoff, photo courtesy of Darcy Jeffs. Photo by Dan Haberly.

Miles, who would soon be diagnosed with mixed receptive expressive language disorder with autism, enrolled in the preschool in September of 2017 for three morning hours four days a week. Darcy, a freelance graphic artist, attended school with him for two months and saw that he struggled to “fall into line” with the class of eight, all with special needs. Sensitive to loud noises, for example, Miles would stray when children were grouped in a circle to sing or dance.

But when Darcy revisited the class the following April, she was astounded by changes in her son. He could follow directions, both verbal and those represented by photos and pictures.

“He’s sitting for circle time,” she says. “He was singing. He was doing all the motions. I started crying.”

The state-sponsored preschool in Florence helped Miles take big leaps in his speech, social, and daily living skills. Even so, says Darcy, “I felt like he needed more.”

To get more, she had to leave Florence. She’d already been driving him each Friday 75 miles away on the winding State Highway 126 to Eugene for an hour of speech and occupational therapy. The parents then enrolled him in another Eugene program offered by a non-profit agency called The Child Center, which combines applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy with preschool for six hours a day, five days a week. Enrolling Miles meant Darcy drove three hours round trip daily. Fortunately, she soon found an affordable Eugene apartment for her and Miles during the week.

The Right Therapy Makes a Big Difference

The ABA therapy is data driven, designed specifically for autistic children and has powerfully improved Miles’s communication, adaptive, emotional regulation, and social skills, says Darcy.

“Communication has been the biggest hurdle,” she says. Now, after his Child Center experience, she says, “not only can he tell us what he wants to eat or activities he wants to do, but he also can tell us what he doesn’t want to do.”

Miles’s gains come at the cost of missing time with his father, a contractor in Florence, who reads bedtime stories to him via Facetime. Darcy says she knows other Florence parents who cannot afford to take their children with special needs to Eugene.

“Seeing how much positive effect we’ve had from this more rigorous therapy, it just makes me feel bad for other families that can’t or don’t,” she says.

Melissa Tyler, 43, a single mom studying in college to become a social worker, also had to leave her town—and state—to get additional help for her 4-year-old son, Mason, who has the Down syndrome genetic disorder.

With state support, Mason attends a preschool in his home town of Ontario with a population of 11,000 on the state’s eastern border, and he gets 100 minutes a month of speech and occupational therapy. But it is “not enough,” says Tyler. She makes the 90-minute round trip two or three times a week across the border to the Boise area to give her son the additional therapy she thinks he needs.

“He has made huge improvements in his verbalization and in his fine motor skills since we started doing the additional speech and occupational therapy,” she says.

Mason Tyler, photo courtesy Melissa Tyler

Oregon’s Investment

Oregon’s Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education program, which includes some federal funding, operates on a two-year budget for 2017–19 of $228 million, about 15 percent of it federal. Between 2012 and 2018, the number of students in the program rose 21 percent to 13,832, and state funding per child climbed 33 percent to $8,726.

Despite funding increases, challenges remain statewide in getting adequate services, and those are compounded in rural areas by distance and limits on access to specialized staff, quality child care and early learning programs, says Kara Williams, director of EI/ECSE and Regional Programs for the Oregon Department of Education

The department reports one third of eligible kids under 3 get the recommended level of early intervention service they need. “Recommended level” means about average as opposed to low- or high-quality, says Newman, the Early Childhood CARES director. About two thirds of 3- and 4-year-olds in special education with low needs get the recommended level, and among those with moderate needs, the portion is 14 percent. Only two percent of those with high needs get the recommended level of service.

The state education department projects that if Oregon increased annual spending on early intervention and special education by $76 million per biennium, it could provide all children with recommended levels of services. That would save money downstream in kindergarten and public school by reducing the number of children in special education and the scope of services they would need.

Heavier investments early also could ease the stress, travel time, and costs that afflict so many rural parents striving to help their children succeed in school and life.

Advocate for Children in Oregon

Advocate for Children in Oregon

Learn more about the programs and services in Oregon that support young children and families: home visiting, child care, early intervention, early childhood special education, and preschool.

Parenting is hard work, especially with young children. Fortunately, Oregon has great services and programs for families.

These include home visiting, child care, early intervention, early childhood special education, and preschool.

Home visiting improves child health and development, parental confidence, and school readiness. And it reduces maternal depression, child abuse, and low-weight births.

Today, home visiting reaches only 1 in 5 eligible families. What if every family who wanted these services could access them?

Oregon also helps many working families access quality child care by providing subsidies or, in some cases, paying for the full cost.

But many working families don’t have access to child care because there aren’t enough providers or it’s just too expensive. What if we could help more parents?     

Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education services support children with developmental delays and disabilities.

They help kids build skills and get ready for school.

But only 1 in 50 kids with high needs get the EI/ECSE supports they need. Where does that leave the rest?

Children who attend high-quality preschool are better prepared for kindergarten and more likely to graduate high school.

And the benefits of preschool last. Adults who attended preschool have better job prospects and better health.

30,000 children in Oregon could benefit from high-quality preschool. Imagine if all of them had that opportunity.   

From birth to age 5, kids grow and develop at an astonishing rate, and they need loving, nurturing environments and relationships.

Parenting young children is challenging, but together we can work to make it easier.   

Join Children’s Institute in advocating to expand home visiting, early intervention, early childhood special education, child care, and preschool so more kids and families have access to these proven supports and services.

You can make a difference.

And we need your voice.

 

Advocate for Children in Oregon

Learn more about our 2019 Policy Recommendations to support young children and families in Oregon and join our movement to let lawmakers know: Early Childhood Matters!

Parents, Educators Call for “More Time, More Hours” to Improve Early Special Education Outcomes

Parents, Educators Call for “More Time, More Hours” to Improve Early Special Education Outcomes

The transition to kindergarten is tough for a lot of kids, but for those with developmental delays and disabilities, it can be especially challenging.

Tristan Davis, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder through Early Intervention (EI) services offered by the Clackamas Educational Service District, was primarily non-verbal when he began preschool at Sunset Primary’s Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) classroom. 

His mom Tracey described preschool-aged Tristan as a happy boy who struggled with regulation and anxiety. Looking back, Tracey says she was nervous as Tristan began preparing for the transition to kindergarten as his ECSE preschool class met for only two and half hours each day, a few days a week.

She compared that to the experience of her older son, Anthony, who attended a traditional preschool program for five hours a day, 3–4 days a week. 

 “[Tristan’s] teacher, Eric, was amazing with him, but I noticed there was not a lot of consistency with the aides who were there. They seemed to have more children than help, sometimes. There were children all across the board developmentally.”

Tracey, who later became a special education paraeducator, is frank about the reality of EI/ECSE services given current funding levels, including the impact that pay and other workforce issues have on the special education field.

 “Eric does it because he loves it and he’s great at it. But he was definitely not paid what he should have been.”

When asked what might have made more of a difference for Tristan as he transitioned to kindergarten, Tracey said, “More time, more hours.”

EI/ECSE Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Is Still Underfunded

Tracey’s recollection of the stretched resources in her son’s classroom echoes reports from Children’s Institute and others that shows most children in EI/ECSE programs are not being served at recommended levels.

According to state data, only 28 percent of children enrolled in EI programming receive the recommended level of service. On average, children enrolled in ECSE with high needs only receive 8.7 hours of preschool per week, rather than the  recommended 15 hours per week. EI service levels have actually decreased by an average of 70 percent from 2004 to 2016.

The governor’s latest budget proposal devotes $45.6 million to EI/ECSE, about $30 million less than what the Early Childhood Coalition and the Alliance for Early Intervention says is needed to adequately serve children. In the 2014–15 school year, more than 21 percent of children exiting EI had caught up with their peers and did not require ECSE services, saving the state nearly $4 million annually. 

Those who work in the field see the need firsthand. Carla Moody Starr, a speech language pathologist on the EI/ECSE evaluation team at the Northwest Regional Educational Service District, says EI/ECSE evaluation staff are often the first point of contact for families who may be overwhelmed, in shock, or in a state of grief if their child is significantly delayed. 

We take into consideration family and child trauma, socio-economic differences, language, and cultural differences— being sensitive to parents, but also educating and advocating for their child is an art. More service is needed for kids with developmental or communication delays before kindergarten. More service is needed for family coaching and education as well. Without adequate EI/ECSE service, these children with disabilities may not develop the skills they need to be successful once they enter elementary school.”

 

Despite insufficient funding for EI/ECSE services, Tracey has high praise for the West Linn-Wilsonville school district’s ability to provide a wide array of resources to support her son’s learning and development.

In advance of his kindergarten school year, Tracey met with the staff at Trillium Creek Primary School to map out an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

“Before school started, his kindergarten teacher left Tristan this long [voicemail] message saying, ‘I know you can’t talk to me, but I want you to know I’m so excited to see you.’ It meant so much to him and so much to me.

“I was so lucky with West Linn. My rent is outrageous and I’m a single mom, but I really felt there was never a question of—does he really need this? His teacher noticed he liked to jump and they got him an indoor trampoline, just in case he needed to jump it out.  They just want him to be successful. That’s the community they foster there.”

EI/ECSE Supports Broader Inclusion Efforts

West-Linn Wilsonville is considered a full-inclusion district, meaning both neurotypical children and children with special education needs are taught in the same classroom. While the Oregon Department of Education sets a state target of 73 percent of special education students being served in a general education classroom, West-Linn Wilsonville far exceeds that standard, reporting that 85.7 percent of its special education students are served in that setting.

Tristan is now a third grader at Trillium Creek Primary and Tracey reports that he’s doing well.  “He loves school and has many friends that he loves. He still has hard days and struggles with anxiety. Overall, school has been a positive experience for him. His team is always communicating with me, and I feel they are invested in his success and happiness.”

Benefits For Typically Developing Peers

Ginny Scelza is a parent of two children who attended the Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP), operated by the David Douglas School District. The program runs preschool classes at 11 locations across six school districts and offers an inclusive environment where children with special education needs learn alongside typically developing children.

Ginny, whose son and daughter are typically developing admits that her interest in the program was due to the affordable cost and convenient location, initially just a few minutes from her home.  MECP tuition costs $32 a month for a twice-a-week program, much less than private preschool programs in the area. Free and reduced tuition is available for qualifying families. 

“The fact that the preschool was in the same building that [my son] would be in for kindergarten was a big draw—that made so much sense.”

Ginny also valued the program’s emphasis on social emotional development.

“I saw [preschool] as a transition from the home environment to a classroom community. How do you share? How do you develop friendships? How do you work as part of a team?  Having my kids in the program helped strengthen their empathy for other people and that was more important to me than academics.”

Ginny credits the program for creating a smooth transition to kindergarten for both her children. She also notes that the benefits of such programs have a positive effect that goes beyond just those children who have disabilities and delays. 

“At age 3 or 4, [my daughter] was learning that kids who were in wheelchairs or needed extra help—they were also a part of her school community. It was normal. How does that not become part of who you are?”

 

Learn More and Support Increased Funding for EI/ECSE Services

EI/ECSE 2019 Fact Sheet

Oregon Must Invest More in Young Children With Disabilities: A Conversation With FACT Oregon’s Executive Director

Join us and a growing coalition of Early Childhood advocates in requesting an addition $75 million investment to increase service levels for children with disabilities and delays. 

 

Learn More About Early Childhood Special Education

Learn More About Early Childhood Special Education

The following articles provide information on the long-term impacts of Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education (EI/ECSE) and the experiences of families in Oregon with these services.

The Hechinger Report: Almost All Students With Disabilities are Capable of Graduating On Time. Here’s Why They’re Not

The New York Times: At 12, He Reads at a First-Grade Level: How New York Failed T.J.

The Hechinger Report: Special Education’s Hidden Racial Gap

New America: Early Childhood Special Education and ESSA: A Great Opportunity for All

To learn more about the need for greater investments in EI/ECSE in Oregon, check out our recent interview with FACT Oregon’s Executive Director Roberta Dunn. FACT Oregon is the only statewide, cross-disability, family-led organization providing information, training, and support to families experiencing disability, birth through adulthood.

While Oregon has prioritized developmental screenings for young children, the state does not invest enough in the Early Intervention (EI) and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) children need once they are diagnosed with disabilities and delays. As a result, more children are referred for EI/ECSE, but most receive less than the recommended levels of service.

We know that these services help children prepare for and succeed in school. Download and share any of the graphics on this page to help spread the word about the importance of these programs to our state. 

Oregon Must Invest More in Young Children With Disabilities

Oregon Must Invest More in Young Children With Disabilities

While Oregon has prioritized developmental screenings for young children, the state does not invest enough in the Early Intervention (EI) and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) children need once they are diagnosed with disabilities and delays. As a result, more children are referred for EI/ECSE, but most receive less than the recommended levels of service.

We spoke with Roberta Dunn, executive director of FACT Oregon, to learn more about the experiences of young children with disabilities seeking services and the need for increased investments from the state to fund the supports proven to enhance the physical, cognitive, and social-emotional devel­opment of children diagnosed with developmental disabilities and/or delays.

Children’s Institute: Can you tell our readers about the work FACT Oregon does, specifically with families of young children?

 

Roberta Dunn: FACT Oregon is the only statewide, cross-disability, family-led organization providing information, training, and support to families experiencing disability, birth through adulthood.

FACT exists to empower families in the pursuit of whole lives for their children who experience disability. It’s our mission and it’s also our passion. All our out-facing staff members are parents raising a child experiencing disability; all of us experienced the day that we received diagnosis, and we can relate to what that felt like. We work to let families know as early as possible that disability doesn’t have to define you. I like to say that it’s like salt and pepper, in that it seasons you, but it doesn’t define you.

FACT is funded by the Oregon Department of Education and the US Department of Education to serve as Oregon’s parent training and information center. So, if a family calls in—and they could be asking us anything from how to get a child to sleep through the night, toileting, teething, all the way through to transitions into adulthood—we’ll be able to find someone who can talk to them within our staff or the families we’re connected with.

We also offer a series of online trainings called Great Start! that specifically targets families with young children. The first training introduces families to person-first language and strengths-based thinking about disability. The second module introduces the importance of having a vision for the future and pursuing opportunities such as early intervention and early childhood special education (EI/ECSE) or community programming. The third focuses on the importance of telling your story—how powerful a family’s experiences can be for legislative advocacy, the school board, or funding for a local program. The final module is a transition to kindergarten training, making sure the family understands disability and how to optimize the availability of EI/ECSE, and then is prepared for their IEP [individual education plan] meeting and transition to kindergarten.

Early Intervention (EI) serves children ages birth to 3 with diagnosed developmental delays and disabilities, or medical conditions likely to result in developmental delays. Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) serves children ages 3 to school age with developmental delays and/or disabilities. 

CI: What’s the biggest challenge facing families in Oregon with young children with disabilities?

Roberta Dunn: Poor funding for EI/ECSE. My son who experiences disability is going to be 26 in November. The level of investment that we were making as a country in early intervention when he was a child was so much higher than what we’re investing now. I would argue that my access to a more robust early intervention system supported me to become the advocate that I am, and a parent who could be my son’s number one fan. I think that that’s one of the things our families aren’t getting right now in early intervention. Early intervention now, from the families that I speak with, is sometimes seen as a little bit more of an annoyance, because it’s so little and not meaningful, and so it just becomes one more thing they have to put on their calendar.

An additional investment of $75.8 million dollars per biennium from the state of Oregon will allow all 14,000 children served by EI/ECSE to receive the recommended levels of service, which would reduce the number of children needing services in preschool and K–12.

Investing in the early years is so important. If we can see a student transition from ECSE into a general education class in their neighborhood with their non-disabled peers, I can tell you based on 25 years’ experience that that child’s trajectory is very different than the child’s who is going into a self-contained program. A child who does not receive adequate early intervention or receives an inadequate amount of ECSE and/or completely segregated ECSE is more likely to flatline and remain in a self-contained room. At 21 that adult receives a certificate of attendance that says, “I went to school,” not a diploma that says, “I learned.” We set that in motion with our investment in EI/ECSE.

I’m very optimistic, though, because we have more and more school districts and ECSE programs that are doing great work, that are being innovative, that are doing the best they can with the meager amounts they’re funded. Hopefully what we’ll see is the intersection of that innovation with adequate funding.

CI: Can you explain the importance of connecting parents with others whose children have similar disabilities?

Roberta Dunn: When parents meet young adults who experience disability in a similar way as their toddler, all of a sudden they say, “Wait a minute—whole lives are possible.” That’s what happened to me. I had opportunities to go to different trainings as a part of my connection in our early intervention community, and as a result met adults who experience disability in the way my son does. They were working, they were having relationships, and they lived out in the community. That helped me to establish what I considered to be my north star. All the decisions I made from that point were based on that north star.

If a family doesn’t get that opportunity to have someone inspire them to dream a bigger dream, they aren’t prepared to optimize what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes available for students for special education in school. As a result, a disengaged and somewhat disenfranchised parent arrives at that IEP meeting not understanding their incredibly important role on that team. If a mediocre IEP is the result of that IEP meeting, it’s still very much the free appropriate public education as outlined in the law, but the parent didn’t know it could be more.

More than 27 percent of preschool children participating in ECSE enter kindergarten without the need for Special Education. 

Additional Resources

Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education in Oregon, Children’s Institute

Understanding Developmental Screenings, Oregon Health & Science University

Inclusive Child Care, Inclusive Partners

FACT’s Special Education Toolkit, FACT Oregon

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