Since 2001, I have worked with individuals with disabilities in various capacities.
After obtaining a bachelors degree in Psychology at Azusa Pacific University, I worked as a behavioral therapist for children with autism. Working with students in their home and school, I fell in love with my job right away. Later, I finished my teaching credential specializing in working with students with the most significant cognitive disabilities at California State University Fullerton. It was there I learned about inclusive education, which to me was an unfamiliar concept. I remember distinctly arguing against the inclusion of students with severe behavior challenges and intellectual disabilities and uttering phrases like “What are they going to get out of being in general education?” These ideas (fortunately) are in my past, and moving forward I worked to systematically include many of my students with autism in general education from a self-contained (segregated) classroom.
From that point on, I did my best to influence other educators in the Pasadena Unified School District to think inclusively. In 2008, my family and I moved from Pasadena, CA to Marietta, GA and I took a job at a school district in the Metro Atlanta area. I transitioned from working with students on the autism spectrum to students with significant cognitive disabilities.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to give a presentation about a pilot inclusion program for students with significant cognitive disabilities with a group from my school district at the TASH conference in Atlanta. It was there that I realized my dreams for inclusive schools were shared by many people. I felt as if I had come home.
One of my biggest takeaways from the TASH Conference was a question that disability rights advocate Norman Kunc raised and helped shape my view of disability. When you see a person with a disability, where do you locate the problem? In the person with the disability (meaning they are broken and need to be fixed)? Or, in the environment, that there are systemic problems that keep a person with a disability from accessing full membership in their schools and communities. Too often people with disabilities are invisible. As an educator, I see that our students are continually underestimated and undervalued in the society at large. It is difficult to change your paradigm when your presumptions are faulty. Even with the best circumstances and attitudes, “They can’t” or “They’re not ready” are some of the first words that come out of people’s mouths.
If anything, the TASH conference renewed my vision of who I wanted to be as an educator. Someone who takes the “Least Dangerous Assumption” and presumes competence, has high expectations for all students and focuses on human dignity. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of work that still needs to be done to create inclusive schools and communities, but to quote Carl Sandburg, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.”
During the conference, I decided that my advocacy need to be taken up a notch and signed up for a Twitter handle (tweeting about #inclusion every chance I could). Finally, a friend of mine convinced me to start the website Think Inclusive. That was in 2012, and the site and my advocacy efforts have grown gradually since then.
I transitioned once again in my educator role in 2014 from a teacher from students with intellectual disabilities to a teacher for students with autism. I was able to focus on what brought me into the field of education and renewed my passion for inclusive practices.
In 2017, after thirteen years as a classroom teacher, I moved into an autism program specialist position supporting teachers and students in my school district.
With my current position, I am still attempting to shine a light on inclusive practices for all students. Outside of regular work hours, I am a speaker, podcaster, inclusion coach, and educational consultant through my company Think Inclusive LLC.
My ultimate goal for the people that I serve is that they learn, live, and play in an inclusive community.