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  • Writer's pictureSpecial Needs Living Magazine

Community Impact with Brittney Ecenbarger

QUESTION: Where do you work currently?

ANSWER: Starlight School. This school works under a specialized service program to serve children K-12th grade who qualify for services through Tusc BDD and who are demonstrating intense behavioral needs. Their classes provide a multidisciplinary treatment that addresses sensory, speech, social, behavioral, and academic needs. Placement offers educational opportunities, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, self-management technique training, and sensory diets for students facing multiple challenges. It is a much-needed program, and truly heartwarming to see staff that genuinely care about the students who attend.

QUESTION: What is your job title here?

ANSWER: Classroom Assistant. I assist in most of the classroom groupings- Preschool, K-2 room, and the 4-6 classroom. One of the teachers lovingly calls me a ‘ping pong ball,’ as I’m always bouncing around to where I’m needed.

QUESTION: How long have you been employed with your current job?

ANSWER: I began working with the school the end of February, 2023.

QUESTION: QUESTION: What other professional associations are you a member of?

ANSWER: I am the Volunteer Representative for the Stark and Tuscarawas County Branch of ASPIES. I have held this position since October of 2021. Originally, I was set to Kickoff the Branch in April of 2020, but Covid had other plans. I host monthly informational and support meetings for parents of those on the Autism Spectrum, and I host events for those kiddos and their families. While our mission is to serve kids and families affected by Autism, the group is always open to anyone wanting to learn more and support these families. Every couple of months I also open the family-friendly events to all ages and all abilities. I believe it is so important for neurotypical children AND their parents to see that children with Autism are kids too, who enjoy many of the same things that they do, in a space that is more sensory inclusive towards their needs. It is a great learning experience for everyone involved.

I have also served on the Family Leadership Committee (FLC) for Stark County for the past year. Our mission is to increase access to and improve the quality of services and supports available to Stark County families with mental health and other complex needs; and increase family engagement and support within partner agencies that promote and sustains family voice. Beginning my second year of serving on the FLC, I have also accepted a Co-Chairperson position. In this role, I help to plan the agenda, facilitate meetings, and represent the Stark County Family Council at community meetings and funders’ visits.

QUESTION: What is the inspiration behind why you work in this field?

ANSWER: Between my work at Starlight School, running the Stark &Tuscarawas County Branch of ASPIES, and serving on the Stark County Family Leadership Committee, my inspiration continues to be one and the same. As I share in my short Bio to all families with ASPIES, I am a mom who has struggled with isolation and depression due to the intensity of needs that my child has. There is such a lack of support and understanding for parents of those with intense needs. I believe that parents of kids with extra needs deserve to feel seen, heard AND supported in the struggles that we face for their betterment. I am simply a mom who has continuously wanted to build something we can all invest in and from which we can gather strength.

QUESTION: What part of your job are your most passionate about?

ANSWER: In being a classroom assistant, I’m passionate about meeting the kids where they are and caring for them as the individuals that they are. I’m also very passionate about helping educators understand the parent side of raising those with high levels of behavioral and medical needs. In my other roles, I am most passionate about helping to build and give voice to struggles that have previously been kept quiet, which further leads to the feeling of isolation.

QUESTION: What advice would you give to someone who is new to your field?

ANSWER: In being a classroom assistant, holding meetings for parents, hosting events for kids with Autism, and speaking with professionals about what services are needed- My advice would be to listen without judgment. Every story is different, and these kids/families want to be accepted at the place they are currently at in their journey. People do the best with the information they have, and when they know better, they can do better. You don’t know what you don’t know.

QUESTION: What is your favorite success story you have seen?

ANSWER: I truly couldn’t choose just one. It has been such a blessing and humbling experience to see kids grow socially, to be accepted within a group, and to show such pride towards crafts and creations they have made at my events. (ASPIES) One of my favorite stories of largescale acceptance was when one of my ASPIES kiddos was concerned that no one would show up for his birthday party for a second year in a row. He enjoyed motorcycles, and through community outreach we had over 60 motorcyclists drive in for his birthday party and bring him gifts, some from the other side of the state. These motorcyclists took the kids in attendance on short rides around the parking lot on their motorcycles. That story continues to make my heart swell, with the compassion and acceptance that was shown that day.

QUESTION: Do you feel like you’re making a difference in your job and why?

ANSWER: I believe that I am. I also believe I am getting just as much out of the roles I hold, if not more. I am constantly being reminded of the joy that comes from working with those whose brains work differently. I am shown a love for others and taught compassion without limits on a daily basis through everything that I do.

I love to learn, and with the roles I hold, I am truly learning every day.

QUESTION: What is something you would change in your field for the better if you could?

ANSWER: When it comes to working with individuals with Autism and behavioral needs, I would grow the amount of safe, reliable, and compassionate respite care within our local communities. It is much needed for the parents to get a chance to breathe and regroup.

QUESTION: Where do you see your industry going moving forward?

ANSWER: There will always be a need for assistants and educators who are willing and able to work with those who have different abilities. My hope is that those looking into furthering their education would see the lifechanging possibilities of working with this population and continue to build and staff programs that enable these individuals to succeed.

QUESTION: What is your favorite non-profit organization or volunteer opportunity?

ANSWER: ASPIES holds a huge space in my heart. ASPIES of Greater Akron was the first time that I found a local source to offer support for our family’s needs. Joy (founder of ASPIES) works tirelessly to offer the support that families need and connect them to resources. I was very excited to expand the services into my local counties, as we didn’t have much available to fit our needs. Both the Akron-based group AND my Branch are fully run by volunteers who always accept help for our events. We can do a LOT but could do so much more if we had more volunteer support and funding. Find out more about our mission and upcoming events at ASPIES.org.

I also love Challenger Baseball. My family has personally been involved with Tuscarawas County Challenger Baseball for 6 years. Challenger Baseball offers a wonderful opportunity for those with a disability to learn a sport at their own pace and comfort level. I LOVE hearing every parent rooting for everyone’s kids at the games. There is no judgement, only LOVE!

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