Haring Center

The University of Washington Haring Center for Inclusive Education provides early childhood education to children with and without disabilities, conducts leading-edge research to advance inclusive learning, and trains education professionals in proven practices to develop every child’s potential. The essential support of our generous donors creates inclusive communities that empower all children to learn, play and grow together.

It is a pivotal time for advancing new discoveries in early learning and we are working to chart a course for the future. Together, we will ensure that children with disabilities receive the best foundation for a lifetime of learning and infinite possibilities. Together, we will build a boundless future. For children, for Washington, for the world.

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    • “We know that signs of autism emerge reliably between 18 months and two years,” says Ashley Penney (PhD ‘16), BCBA and research scientist at the UW Autism Center. “But most kids aren’t diagnosed until they’re about four and a half years old.” Annette Estes (PhD ‘98), who directs the Autism Center, explains that the gap is even greater for children who are Black, Hispanic, eligible for Medicaid or living in rural areas. “A large number of kids on the autism spectrum in the United States never get autism-specific intervention,” says Estes. “That is just not acceptable.” With these disparities in mind, the Haring Center joined forces with the Autism Center in 2018 to collaborate on a solution. The On-Time Autism Intervention (OTAI) project now works to increase access to on-time autism intervention services, with a gift from the Seattle Foundation. “Intervention should be on-time,” explains Haring Center Director Ilene Schwartz, who co-directs OTAI with Estes. “We need to meet children and families where they are and provide them with the services at times and in formats that work for them.” The project engages community-based practitioners who offer diagnostic and intervention services for children. Experts from the Haring Center and the Autism Center are developing a practice framework for these community partners within King County, with hopes of expanding it in the future. The project also engages UW students from a variety of disciplines, including special education, public health, social work and psychology. Schwartz explains that the collaborative aspect of OTAI allows the team to use different lenses to view the issues they are trying to address. “In a meeting, we can go from a detailed description of a child’s assessment to a national view of issues and trends in assessment because of our team’s breadth and depth,” she says. OTAI focuses on three areas: diagnosis, navigation and treatment. Jessica Greenson, director of clinical services at the Autism Center, leads the project’s on-time diagnosis work. Greenson works with King County’s birth-to-three providers to improve identification of children who may need an autism diagnosis. She explains there are a number of barriers for children in need of a diagnosis. “Diagnostic centers often have long waitlists,” says Greenson. “For many families, English is their second language. There are financial barriers in terms of driving to a diagnostic center, plus a lot of diagnostic centers don’t take Medicaid. Also, there are cultural pieces – for some families, there is a huge stigma around the idea of disability.” “I work with the birth-to-three providers to develop systems for screening kids and for what to do when those screens come out positive – how to have conversations with families and help them find a place to get a diagnosis,” she says. These families are where OTAI’s navigation arm comes in. “One of the questions we’ve asked from the beginning is: ‘What should every child and their family have in that first year from the initial signs of autism up through diagnosis and intervention?’” says Penney. Penney leads monthly online groups for parents of children who are waiting to get a diagnosis or who have recently received one. She reports some of the stories she hears from parents in this position suggest not enough support and sometimes dismissal of their concerns. “After parents get a diagnosis for their child, there are a lot of different emotions,” says Adriana Luna, a doctoral student at the UW College of Education and Haring Center fellow. “Sometimes they are left without any support at all.” Luna joined the OTAI team to help facilitate the parent groups and make them more accessible by hosting groups for Spanish-speaking parents. For some parents, it is the first time someone is speaking to them in their first language about their child’s diagnosis. “We can’t forget to bring in the parents alongside other professionals,” stresses Luna. “We can understand what parents need from professionals so that we work as a unit to help children succeed.” According to Luna, parents in the online groups have formed friendships outside of the groups, an added benefit of the project. Penney and Greenson are also in the early stages of developing a podcast as a resource for families navigating their child’s autism signs, diagnosis and beyond. As part of OTAI’s focus on autism treatment, Luna and Penney facilitate a Project ECHO network. The ECHO network brings together service providers who work with children three and under with autism, including Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), Occupational Therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists, special educators and family resource coordinators. The meetings involve case studies and create a platform for different types of providers to learn from each other around working with young children who may or may not have their autism diagnosis yet. “These two groups of providers – birth-to-three providers who are working with kids free of charge through Part C and BCBAs working with the same population – have different strengths,” says Penney. “Both strengths are really necessary, so our goal is to bring them together to increase meaningful collaboration.” The diagnosis, navigation and treatment arms of OTAI fuse into the practice framework the team is developing for reaching children and families closer to when they first need services. Estes says the team plans to eventually expand the framework to other birth-to-three providers beyond King County to receive input and observe its use. “I want every child, regardless of ability or background, to receive the services they and their family need to thrive quickly and in a manner that is respectful, responsive and effective,” says Schwartz, in describing her vision for the future. Greenson explains that how early a child with autism can access autism-specific treatment changes the quality of their life and their families’ lives. “We know what to do,” agrees Estes. “We know how to identify autism as soon as it emerges and we know all sorts of effective ways of supporting kids on the autism spectrum and their families. This is the time to bring it to all communities.”

    • “This is our gym space,” says Chris Matsumoto, Haring Center assistant director and Experimental Education Unit (EEU) principal, standing in front of a pile of mats and trampolines. “And our cafeteria.” He explains how every day at lunchtime, EEU staff push all the gym equipment to the side, set up tables for lunch, and then take down the tables and set it all back up again for afternoon gym. The lack of space is one of the many reasons the Haring Center building will undergo renovations over the coming few years, made possible by a $30 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation. Matsumoto explains the building is outdated and no longer serves the Haring Center’s desire to create equitable and inclusive educational opportunities for all children. “The Haring Center was purpose-built for what it was in the 1960’s, but it has gone beyond its useful life.” says Evan Bourquard, associate principal with Mithun, the design firm leading the project. The renovations will create the space and ability for the Haring Center’s Research and Professional Development & Training teams to work in the same building as the EEU school, fixing one of the Haring Center’s most significant roadblocks, according to Matsumoto. The current design of the Haring Center building prohibits collaboration, he says. “When the building was built in the 1960s, the state of science was different; research happened in labs and clinics.” says Kathleen Artman Meeker, Haring Center director of research and associate professor at the University of Washington College of Education (CoE). “Now we know science happens in classrooms, communities and homes, and researchers work everywhere.” “The new space will give us a home base for collaboration, sharing, and learning from one another,” Artman Meeker continues. “It opens up classrooms, so we can all learn from the Haring Center’s teaching teams. It has space for active learning for adults, as well as children.” Currently observation booths, used for teachers, researchers and parents to watch classrooms without being a part of the environment, double as storage units. Haring Center staff frequently find hallways to hold meetings due to the absence of collaboration space. “After making our way through this pandemic year, we are reminded of how important it is to think about how space is utilized and how the space itself can play a role in our wellness,” comments Meghan Hanlon, Haring Center program and building coordinator. The renovations also plan to expand intentional community space indoors and outdoors, connecting two courtyards and opening up offices. “The Haring Center’s interaction among different staff across units, teams, disciplines and educational standing is one of the characteristics that defines who we are,” says Ilene Schwartz, director of the Haring Center and the CoE special education doctoral program. “This interaction creates a synergy that is part of our DNA. The new community spaces will provide more opportunities for this interaction to take place, and I am excited to think about the new ideas and innovations that will result.” “The space will transform the way we work,” adds Artman Meeker. “It literally breaks down the walls between our different programs.” Beyond the space itself, components of the current Haring Center building offer limited access for people with disabilities. Matsumoto explains doorways, hallways, water fountains and more do not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards due to their age. Not all children are able to use the counters, sinks and bathrooms in EEU classrooms with the current design. “This opportunity will bring us into the present and carry us through the future,” says Hanlon. Matsumoto emphasizes how time and resources stand in the Haring Center’s way in terms of making true change in the community, and these renovations will provide the Haring Center with both of those things. “The Haring Center has always attracted researchers, trainers, teachers and families who are deeply passionate about equity and inclusion,” says Matsumoto. “This redesign will allow us to take this passion, dedication, knowledge and skill in this building and share it with the broader community.” For more information, read the press release here.

    • Haring Center researchers work with teachers, families and communities to advance inclusive education worldwide. In doing so, many serve as faculty at the UW College of Education and train the next generation of early childhood and special education experts. This year, two doctoral students working closely with Haring Center researchers received competitive national fellowships to advance their research in educational equity and inclusion. Gounah Choi, a third year doctoral candidate in special education, began her two-year fellowship with the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) in autumn 2020. Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, NCPMI works to improve state and local program implementation of the Pyramid Model, an early childhood multi-tiered system of support that promotes young children’s social and emotional development. In her fellowship, Choi works with a faculty mentor on researching how to best support practitioners to implement the Pyramid Model through increasing family engagement in infant and toddler programs. “This work aligns with my research interests,” says Choi. “We’re looking at how to encourage family engagement in infant and toddler settings, how to support families to collaborate with teachers more, and how to support teachers to collaborate with and encourage engagement from families.” Choi explains that she is developing family engagement-specific resources and creating research summaries within her fellowship. She hopes that the materials she creates will be available to teachers and parents at the Haring Center when complete. After the fellowship, Choi plans to continue her research on family engagement in social and emotional teaching beyond infant and toddler populations into the preschool age. She currently works closely with Haring Center Researcher Angel Fettig studying parent-teacher collaborations for promoting social-emotional learning of children with disabilities or delays, particularly those from underrepresented communities. “Young children spend more time with their families than at school, so it’s really critical that families know what’s happening at school and teachers know what’s happening at home,” says Choi. “To foster that mutual understanding and consistent learning experiences across settings, the family engagement needs to come first.” Choi worked as a special education teacher for young children with autism, and as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst prior to coming to the College of Education, which she says ignited her research interest. “My students’ families were from diverse cultural groups and family engagement was a big piece to improve student outcomes.” Choi knew teachers often have a heavy workload, and she saw at the same time families were very busy. “That’s when I started thinking about the best way to promote family engagement, family participation, and teacher collaboration without putting too much pressure on both sides,” says Choi. “Family engagement can’t be put aside.” William White, who is in his fourth and final year of his doctoral degree, received one of the inaugural Start with Equity fellowships under the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University. White will conduct, review and translate innovative research on equity in early childhood education, along with three other doctoral candidates and one postdoctoral researcher around the country. The fellowship involves mentorship and professional development throughout the academic year and concludes with a summer internship at a policymaking institution. As a Start with Equity fellow, White is researching inequities in gifted education and developing policy recommendations for districts and local, state, and federal agencies to reduce these inequities. He says he plans to bring the strength of storytelling into the policy format, and embed stories of Black male teachers in early childhood education within his policy brief. White is also the co-designer and founder of the My Brother’s Teacher project, which launched earlier this academic year with Cultivate Learning and seeks to increase the presence of Black and Brown males in early childhood education. The Haring Center will be a project site for Black and Brown males to intern and gain experience working with children. “The master narratives created by white supremacy are perpetuated every day through white teachers to Black students,” explains White. “We know the research says white teachers have lower expectations for Black students, so we need more Black teachers to counter that narrative. I bring out the goodness of what it means to be a Black male teacher — the parts we don’t hear about.” Over his four years at the College of Education, White has worked in close collaboration with Haring Center Researcher Kathleen Artman Meeker. Prior to obtaining his doctoral degree, he taught special education for ten years and saw how racial inequities impact students. “Too many times we look at inclusivity as just considering people with disabilities,” says White. “We don’t look at how a Black child who has a disability is less likely to get the services than a white child with a disability.” “This work is draining at times,” he remarks. “But at the end of the day, if I know a Black kid in some classroom is going to have a better experience, I can go to sleep.” Choi and William hope their respective fellowships will propel them further into their research interests. “I would like to pursue a postdoctoral position to gain more research experience,” says Choi. “And in the long term, I am interested in teaching teacher candidates.” White says he will continue his work with My Brother’s Teacher, expanding and diversifying the education field for all People of Color, regardless of their gender identity. “Having a deeper understanding now of how policy works, I’ll keep pushing on policymakers,” he says. “I plan to make some changes.”