A New Beginning for the Exceptional Needs Community
By Amy KD Tobik
When I tell people I started my own business in 2020, they typically offer a wholehearted congratulations, followed by a polite, "Was that a good idea during a pandemic?" Why would anyone launch a magazine when the world has been shut down due to COVID-19, they ask.
Because it was needed.
I have worked in publishing for more than 30 years, during which time I also volunteered with children of all abilities. I saw firsthand that students do not always receive the educational supports and therapies to which they are entitled—and families are not always provided with the tools and emotional support they deserve. The pandemic has only magnified these challenges and disparities.
Creating Exceptional Needs Today magazine became a dream endeavor because I could combine two of my passions—advocacy and the power of the written word. This FREE publication provides individuals the opportunity to learn from one another while becoming a part of a strong and passionate group. We are proud to have become a community of voices.
While working within the special needs community for many years, I witnessed how challenging it had become during the pandemic for educators, physicians, and therapists to provide much-needed support and services. In addition to the worldwide financial and academic struggles, millions of families lost access to vital emotional support and mental health services. While social distancing was necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus, the impact isolation and closures have had on people with different abilities has been staggering. With more than seven million American children entitled to special services and accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help them learn, I knew time was of the essence when establishing a new publication. I could not wait until life was different or perhaps a little easier to launch a magazine that allows families, educators, therapists, doctors, and self-advocates to exchange ideas and generate solutions. And I am delighted to say the response from the community has been phenomenal.
Since the shutdown, numerous therapists and teachers have reached out to me to share their concerns about the educational, social, and mental health needs of their patients and students. Sleep schedules have dwindled, anxieties and negative behaviors have increased, and much-needed daily routines have disappeared for many. Parents tell me they are worried about academic progress, shrinking opportunities to practice social skills, and worry when the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is not updated or followed. The effects of the pandemic on the exceptional needs community have been far-reaching and significant. Launching Exceptional Needs Today during a global crisis has allowed us to initiate critical conversations and perhaps, become a catalyst for change.
While the past year has been overwhelming in a multitude of ways, I firmly believe there is good news on the horizon. The pandemic has exposed discrepancies and disparities within the system, and families, educators, therapists, doctors, and self-advocates are demanding change. They are rethinking how ALL individuals are viewed, treated, and educated, which can create a positive transformation.
Even with the angst a pandemic generates, I see an evolution in thinking as people have reached out to me with their ideas to enhance therapies, improve online learning, and support emotional and mental health. I also have heard from young people with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD who express frustration with the way they tend to be treated while offering insightful solutions for improving the narrative. I know countless teachers are working overtime to ensure ALL kids have access to the tools they require, whether they learn in person or learn from home.
While the pandemic has been financially, emotionally, and mentally draining for most of us, I plan to use this time to look toward the future. We need to keep the conversations open while propelling ahead to ensure lessons are learned from the changes the shutdowns triggered. There's no better time than now to work to ensure ALL people are accepted, respected, and included. Let's bring new visions and long-term solutions to the table. Let's ensure ALL people have a voice.
Amy KD Tobik is the editor-in-chief of Exceptional Needs Today magazine. She coordinates and directs an impressive group of doctors, therapists, and writers to provide expert guidance and support for special needs families. A graduate of Sweet Briar College in VA, Amy's experience includes more than 30 years of writing/editing monthly magazines, newspapers, technical documents/manuals, books, and websites. Her special interests include advocating for children, special needs families, and education. She is the CEO of Lone Heron Publishing, LLC.