Haring Center

Our Research History

The Haring Center has a long history of asking critical questions and conducting groundbreaking research to improve the learning of individuals with special needs. Many of the educational practices developed here are considered best practices in special education. As a result of our research and the dissemination of our instructional practices and models, countless learners and families are thriving today. Our innovative projects include:

1970s: Model Program for Children with Down Syndrome

In 1971, children with Down syndrome did not often attend public schools. A victim of negative stereotypes, children with Down syndrome, like other children with disabilities, were simply not granted admission to public schools based on the assumption they would not be able to learn.

A team of researchers and educators at the Haring Center changed all of that by creating the Model Program for Children with Down Syndrome – a program designed to demonstrate that young children with Down syndrome would benefit from and flourish with access to early intervention and education. This dedicated team worked tirelessly to find new ways to teach children with disabilities using principles of Applied Behavior Analysis paired with lessons from early childhood education. Concerned with the neutral results of intervention with older children with Down syndrome, Valentine Dmitriev concluded that intervention had to begin in infancy.

The model program began by teaching a single child with Down syndrome, Dennis, who could not speak, how to read so he could have a way to communicate. Dennis’ remarkable strides allowed the program to grow quickly. Dmitriev and Patricia Oelwein were awarded a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Handicapped Children’s Early Education Program, and in 1975 earned recognition as a program that was exemplary and worthy of nationwide dissemination and replication. Eventually, the methodology reached six continents.

A fundamentally groundbreaking approach to educating children with Down syndrome, the program’s results proved that not only could children with Down syndrome read, but also post reading scores surpassing their ages and corresponding reading levels. One of the first major breakthroughs in the early days of special education research, the Down Syndrome Program remains an example of the Haring Center’s capability to effect change on a nationwide level and further inclusive education.

1980s: Sibling Support Project, Father Network and Media Literacy

Family Support

Haring Center researchers and educators have worked to support the entire family of a child with a disability for decades. Just as each child with a disability requires individualized support to achieve their best possible outcomes, a child’s family also needs support to access the resources and support necessary for that family to thrive.

The relationships most children with a disability develop with their siblings will be the most meaningful and longest lasting connections in their life. There can also be unique experiences, challenges and rewards that come alongside being the sibling of a child with a disability. With that in mind, Haring Center researcher Don Meyer began a program called the Sibling Support Project. One of the most well-known activities of the project has been the SibShop program, which is a platform for siblings of children with disabilities to connect with other siblings and have a safe place to share their experiences and address the challenges and rewards that can come along with being a sibling. More than 350 SibShop programs are currently available throughout the United States and more than 10 countries in six continents around the world.

During the same era, Haring Center researcher Greg Schell recognized that, while fathers of children with disabilities play a critical role in their children’s development and family functioning, there were few resources to provide fathers with the tools they needed to parent with confidence. Schell began the Father’s Support Network in 1986 to support fathers of children with special needs, providing them with information, resources and connections they need to be effective dads. This network has grown to include several chapters throughout Washington State and the surrounding areas including Idaho, Oregon and Canada.

Northwest Center for Media Literacy Education

Recognizing the need to find innovative ways to communicate with families and professionals, one of the Haring Center’s longest running programs is the Northwest Center for Media Literacy Education. The goal of this Center is to provide high quality training on current topics to audiences who may be difficult to research using traditional delivery techniques. Beginning in 1989 as the Early Childhood Telecommunications Project, researchers Marilyn Cohen and Barbara Johnson sought to furnish care providers in remote communities with educational training content.

Originally disseminated to televisions over the Public Broadcast System, the Center developed training for first time teachers, childcare providers, graduate students and professionals who could not access traditional training opportunities. Through their tireless work, the Center has provided training to thousands of students and professionals who would not have otherwise received frequent trainings on best practices.

1990s: Project DATA

Created by Haring Center educators, researchers and graduate students, Project DATA (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism) is a groundbreaking, replicable, sustainable, inclusive classroom model for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This program has been replicated by school districts throughout the State of Washington and the rest of the United States.

Project DATA began in 1997 with a model demonstration grant from the Office of Special Education Programs. Ilene Schwartz, Bonnie McBride, Gusty-Lee Boulware and Susan Sandall designed a program that blended best practices from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Early Childhood Special Education, and Early Childhood Education into a comprehensive, school-based program to meet the needs of children with ASD and their families.

During its near-25-year history at the EEU, Project DATA has expanded into seven succeeding grants and trained over 150 teachers and behavior analysts. Most importantly, this project has positively impacted the lives and education of 300 toddlers and preschoolers at the EEU.

ABA techniques generated positive outcomes for children in the early-and-middle 1990s before the start of Project DATA, but those previous studies observed children receiving services solely at home, secluding them from their peers. While children improved in many areas, they did not see as high of gains in social skills or the ability to translate what they learned into more diverse or educational settings. Project DATA aimed to change this by pairing an inclusive preschool classroom, which includes typically developing peers, with an extended-day session where children with ASD learn and practice skills together. Providing support and training to parents and other family members is also an important component of the program.

Because of this program, children in Project DATA continue to see dramatic increases in social, verbal and motor skills, and are more likely to enter elementary school in the least restrictive environments possible – for many that means traditional classroom settings. The results of the project were so impactful on students that this research has produced a number of subsequent grants and projects.

2000s: Building Blocks Framework

In 2008, Haring Center Researchers Ilene Schwartz and Susan Sandall literally wrote the book on modifying traditional preschool curricula and environments to include children with special needs, titled Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs. Through its lessons, Building Blocks instructs educators to meet federal requirements for special education, and provides educators with practical, research-based strategies to promote progress in critical areas such as behavior, emergent literacy and peer relationships.

This innovative text stressed the need for a high-quality early childhood program as the foundation for the future of a child’s education. Building Blocks outlined a four-step system of inclusive preschool education. The most basic adjustments teachers could make included organization of their classrooms and tips to promote positive interactions with adults. If children need more individualized support to meet their learning goals, the book presents a system of curriculum modifications, embedded learning opportunities and highly individualized child-focused instructional strategies.

Through Ilene and Susan’s work, any teacher has the tools to create an inclusive classroom that promotes participation and contribution for children of all abilities. Building Blocks is considered a seminal text for any aspiring or practicing special educator. It is used in developmental preschools, childcare, early learning, pre-kindergarten and Head Start programs throughout the country.

2010s: National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning

Responding to the need for professional coaching and training to give early learning teachers the skills to increase their students’ elementary school readiness, the U.S. Office of Head Start awarded a five-year $40 million grant to Haring Center researchers to create the National Center for Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL) in 2010. The grant remains the largest received by the University of Washington College of Education.

Dr. Susan Sandall and Dr. Gail Joseph oversaw a team that took an inclusive approach to improve effective teaching practice, by developing practice-based coaching techniques and other professional development tools for early educators around the country. This process supports teachers’ use of effective teaching practices that lead to positive outcomes for children. With an emphasis in creating a set of products to provide teachers with the strategies to help any child become kindergarten ready regardless of ability, this team focused on four tenants of supporting school readiness for all children:

  1. Engaging Interactions and Environments
  2. Research-Based Curricula and Teaching Practices
  3. Ongoing Child Assessment
  4. Highly Individualized Teaching and Learning

By creating supports that allow teachers to create the most conducive environment for a child to learn from the physical classroom setting and curriculum, to guidance for educators to use to the assessment to create individualized ongoing learning plans, NCQTL distributed more than 40 focused teaching suites that helped every teacher embed learning into all aspects of his or her classroom. The training materials developed by NCQTL have been used by Head Start programs in all 50 U.S. states and territories. NCQTL has impacted Head Start teachers, the young children they teach across the country and their families.