In this clip, Leslie shares her passion for improving the quality of life for people with disabilities with a specific focus on young children and families.
Leslie: So my passion has been improving the quality of life for people with disabilities with a particular focus on young children and families in my professional roles. When I was a teenager, I became interested in what we called at the time, “mental retardation”, today known as “cognitive impairment” or “developmental disabilities”. One of my first professional jobs was working in a grant funded program for visually impaired children and adults in a state institution. I was fortunate to be part of the movement in the 1970s to expose the abuses of these institutions and improve the conditions as a result of state and federal lawsuits with subsequent funding.
Leslie: As we developed this new program and learned about the ravages of trauma and deprivation of institutional life on those children and adults, we understood that we needed to develop relationships with many other staff. Including those in direct care roles who had been there for generations and were wary of so many new young professionals. When I left that position a few years later, I knew I had learned a lot understood, that I had cultivated some good advocacy skills and appreciated that teamwork was a very powerful approach for effective change. Working in that state institution was a jarring and humbling experience. When I left the position, I was aware that many of the people I had worked with had no one to advocate for them.
Leslie: I subsequently became a legal guardian for a woman, Diana. She had been born in the institution to her mother, another resident, who had been abused and suffered from syphilis. Subsequently, Diana was deaf limited vision in one eye. I was able to use my knowledge and relationships with staff to improve the quality of Diana's life, first in the institution, later in a group home.
Leslie: In contrast to my first position at the institution, I was honored to be part of the progressive approach to including these children and their communities and supporting parents in providing for their child's needs. Service delivery was based on interdisciplinary teamwork, including parents, educators, nurses, social workers and speech occupational and physical therapists. Our philosophy had that parents and families were the most important members of that team and without their investment, we professionals would not succeed.
I often tell the story of one of my first home visits with Bonnie, our team nurse. I remember sitting on the floor observing and interacting with the baby while Bonnie was sitting on the couch talking with the mother. Initially, I was annoyed that Bonnie wasn't assessing the child's needs, but quickly recognized that the conversation and relationship with the mother was the most important part of the visit.
Leslie: When I moved into an administrative position in the public schools in the early 2000s, I worked collaboratively with guidance counselors in the high schools for students with disabilities could have more equal access to academics and extracurricular activities. In these public schools I thoroughly enjoyed my role as a team leader, facilitating meetings with parents and staff to create appropriate educational programs for each student.
Leslie: The teamwork during my early intervention years and some relationships built at that time remained today. There have been several reunions over the years. We rallied over Zoom during the beginning of the pandemic to honor our colleague, Bonnie, who had passed away and had been a mentor for many of us. We recently had a physical reunion just a couple of months ago, about a dozen women, some from out of state. In addition to discussing everyone's current activities and families, the conversation always comes back to what great work we did in those early years and how important that teamwork was to our success.