Developing Compassion

How to empower parents of children with special needs

Working as an Early Access Home Intervention Teacher with Des Moines Public Schools, Stephanie Shattuck has a unique opportunity to see how parents are children’s first and most effective teachers. 

Stephanie works with families of children birth to 3 years old who have or are at risk for a developmental delay. The main goal of Stephanie and her team is to empower parents to take steps in teaching and understanding their child.

“It’s a matter of helping them see how they can work with their child,” Stephanie said. “Kids are learning all the time. We use things that they are doing already so the child can learn and continue to learn.”

Coming Alongside
Early Access services are offered at no cost to families. Their team includes people from many disciplines: social workers, speech pathologists, nurses, teachers, and physical and occupational therapists. When families are referred to the program, Stephanie meets with them one-on-one to evaluate the child’s needs.

A child must be showing a 25 percent delay to receive services. Some children show a language delay while others act out with tantrums and behavior disorders. Many of Stephanie’s cases are children who were born prematurely or are in foster care. “All the families are different,” Stephanie said. “We worked with twins born at 27 weeks that had a lot of early intervention. They just turned 3 years old and are going to regular preschool now.” 

Stephanie received her degree from Drake University in elementary education with endorsements in early childhood special education and reading. Before becoming a home intervention teacher, she taught preschool at Des Moines Christian. Although she loved working with preschoolers, Stephanie wanted to use her special education degree. 

“The part of my job that surprised me the most is how much I love it! I thought I would miss the classroom and a typical 'teacher' job, but I love the structure, flexibility, and ability to get to know the families on a much deeper level,” Stephanie said. 

Stephanie meets with families in their home, childcare setting, or in public community spaces. She teaches parents to incorporate learning skills into their daily routines like having the child sort laundry by color or match socks. One barrier to growth is when parents anticipate every need the child has. Instead, she encourages parents to have children ask questions and pick between choices. 

“So much of my job is problem solving. If we’re working on a behavior, I ask questions like, ‘Why is this happening? What happens before the behavior?’” Stephanie said. “The parents and I figure out a lot of things together. Then they feel empowered to figure it out and change things. It’s cool when parents start to see the success.”

Growing Compassion
One of the most difficult parts of her job is telling parents that their child has a delay and seeing them struggle with acknowledging that. She has the opportunity to work with many broken families and also families who know the Lord. No matter the situation, Stephanie desires to display the love and compassion of Christ through her job. 

“I get to come alongside people and be compassionate, and they get to see Jesus in that,” Stephanie said. “It’s so unique to become a part of their families. You get to know the families so well. Many times when I’m talking with parents they start crying about something else. I get to care about the things that they care about and allow the Lord to work through those things. He has revealed more of His heart for people and developed compassion in me.”

"I get to care about the things that they care about and allow the Lord to work through those things. He has revealed more of His heart for people and developed compassion in me.”

Many times Stephanie and her husband Matt even run into families she works with outside of the “office”. One dad lives in the same neighborhood that Stephanie’s Windsor Heights Community Group plays soccer on Friday nights. One night he came to play and got to meet everyone. 

“I choose to speak well of the families,” Stephanie said. “People know I’m a Christian and know that’s why I do this job. You’re laying your life down for people. This job requires a lot of sacrifice and love.”

Recently her job became even more hands-on. Stephanie and Matt had their first son, Luke, in early September. “I’m excited to see firsthand what people go through,” Stephanie said.