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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    • The UW College of Education (CoE) 2020 graduating class entered the teaching workforce during a tumultuous time. “As a first-year teacher, you’re learning the job, but you’re learning a different job,” says Lik Qi Lim, who received her Master of Early Childhood Special Education from CoE last May. Em Dandridge, who also graduated with a Master of Early Childhood Special Education during the pandemic, explains the newly minted educators were starting jobs that looked like nothing anyone knew. Dandridge started as a special educator in early intervention at Kindering, a comprehensive neurodevelopmental center providing services to children from birth to age three in King County, in March 2020. In this role, they build foundational language and play skills with children and coach parents to support their children. Until a recent transition to a hybrid model, Dandrige’s work has been exclusively remote. “Three days a week we do an interactive virtual circle-time class,” says Dandridge. “I use virtual backgrounds and will put myself literally inside of a book to point to things, and play with Zoom features to make myself bigger or smaller. We also do movement-based activities like yoga classes, as we all know no kid has gotten enough movement in the past year.” Lim also started the school year remotely but moved to a hybrid model after about a month. Lim is a preschool head teacher at the EEU, educating children aged three to five, and explains there have been a variety of challenges this year. “I had to get to know the kids, my team and the families all online. Some kids struggle with online learning, so we were supporting parents through that,” says Lim. “Getting to know the kids through their homes was a hard start, but also really interesting because we got to learn a lot more about their home life.” “Then we came back in-person with a hybrid model,” Lim continues. “We had to set up our classroom with COVID regulations — there were materials that couldn’t be used. Play looked different, large group looked different, everything looked different.” Lim explains that establishing a routine for the children has also been challenging. Some of her children learn in-person twice a week on back-to-back days. She says often they will work hard on something and a child might show progress by the second day, but after five days away from physical school, it can feel like starting over each next week. For Dandridge, the differences of the online model can be more nuanced. “In some ways it’s the same — you’re reading the Zoom room to figure out which kids are tuned in and which kids aren’t. You’d be doing the same thing in a physical classroom, it just looks a little different,” they explain. Both Lim and Dandridge remark their time at CoE helped them succeed in this tough first year on the job. “I started at the EEU in 2018 as a practicum student and graduate staff assistant,” says Lim. “I could draw back from my practicum experiences and knowing the community has helped me feel supported this year.” Dandridge cites the cohort model as fostering a strong bond among the graduating students. “Getting through the tail-end of our program in a pandemic together really solidified that bond,” they explain. “The sense of teaming is emphasized heavily in our program and has carried on as we’ve continued to support each other through a challenging first year of teaching.” The cohort’s collaboration continues formally for Dandridge too. In addition to conducting family sessions, working with children and collaborating with other providers, Dandridge works on Kindering’s equity team. They join another special educator from their graduating cohort to present staff trainings around concepts like neurodiversity and the intersections of gender identity and various neurotypes. Lim and Dandridge agree being a first-year teacher during the pandemic has also come with some silver linings. “I’ve had so many extra support factors, because everyone is just an easy message away,” says Dandridge. “We’re as distant as ever, but we’re also closer than ever before because we reach out to each other to try to make those connections.” Lim says the different relationship with families has been valuable. “In a typical year, you could easily chat with families during drop-off or pick-up in the classroom,” she explains. “Trying to establish the bond with families at the start was definitely harder, especially remotely, but the silver lining to it is that you get to know more of what is going on behind the scenes at home and build stronger relationships with them.” Lim also says she is able to create more of her own lessons with the online and hybrid models. The day-to-day of next year still holds plenty of unknown for educators like Lim and Dandridge. Lim will continue as a preschool head teacher at the EEU, and expresses a longer-term goal of increasing access to inclusive early childhood education worldwide. “I wish there could be a community and school and place like the EEU all over the world, that anyone can access, and where everyone is included regardless of who they are,” she says. Similarly, Dandridge hopes to work in education policy in the future, to make publicly-funded education accessible and inclusive for younger ages, but plans to continue to grow in their current role. “This is a role where you never stop learning,” they say. “That’s one of the beautiful things about working in education, especially with kids this young. Every kid is so unique.” Despite the tough circumstances for their first year, Dandridge and Lim say they love their jobs. “You can still see the community being built. Under those masks, the kids are still enjoying school — they love their friends, they love the place they come to, they have so much fun playing and building a community,” says Lim. “Even though some days it’s so intense, at the end of the day the kids go home and have a big smile on their face.

    • “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.