As a mother of two children on the autism spectrum, Dr. Katie Krammer is passionate about bringing people together and creating a support network for parents and families like hers. It’s why the Milestones 2017 honoree of the Parent Tribute Award helped found a grassroots community group here in Northeast Ohio. Founded just three years ago with a handful of members, the group has grown to over 200 families and caregivers.
In addition to her work with the community, Dr. Krammer is active in the field of education. As Associate Professor of Special Education and the Coordinator of the Special Education Licensure Program at Lake Erie College, her research interests include Universal Design for Learning, Differentiation, Cognitive Learning Strategies and supporting families who have children with autism.
Dr. Krammer holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, a Master of Science in Education with an emphasis in Deaf Education, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education with an emphasis in Teacher Education and a minor in Statistics from the University of Kansas. Prior to entering higher education, Dr. Krammer worked as a sign language interpreter as well as an intervention specialist for deaf and hard of hearing students for many years in public schools.
How have your efforts have impacted the autism and special needs community?
Three years ago I helped start the Lake/Geauga Autism Support Group in conjunction with the State Support Team Region 4. Since its inception the group has grown to over 50 families who attend, as well as over 200 families and caregivers who get support from the Autism of Lake County, OH Facebook support group page. This group has brought so many people together not just for those meetings, but it has truly created a network of support for the parents/caregivers and also for our kids. We have become a family who all looks out and supports one another and it is amazing!
How has helping others shaped your life?
With every step of the way through the diagnosis of both of our sons, I have constantly thought, “If it is this hard for me – someone with a PhD in special education – what must other families be going through?” Consequently, it only renews my dedication towards helping to support families. Additionally, as a professor of special education, I was always devoted to preparing great special education teachers; but now that they could be my son’s teachers someday, it has only elevated my passion.
What is your message to inspire others to serve the autism and special needs community?
My message is to make connections with others. Given the prevalence being what it is, there is no reason to have to feel like you are going through this alone. It can be a challenging road sometimes, but when we walk it together we can make a bigger difference in our children’s futures.
Lev Gonick knows it takes an entire community to raise a child. “When we arrived in Cleveland we had a chance to meet some amazing, amazing folks,” he says. “We are so incredibly lucky. Of all the places we have lived, the Cleveland community is the one that has reached out, that has provided, that has laid down tracks where no one would ever, ever imagine going.”
Gonick, Milestones 2016 Benefit Honoree, husband to Barb and father to daughters Sari and Mya, recently shared about how Milestones has impacted and helped his family. Every milestone in his daughter’s life affords his family an opportunity to celebrate with the community. Every challenge they face is made easier by the collective shoulder of the community.
How did you first hear about Milestones Autism Resources?
“My wife Barb met regularly with other moms to check in about their children with autism and to share what was working for them. Ilana Hoffer Skoff and Mia Buchwald Gelles (co-founders of Milestones) were invited to this informal group. The idea of creating a local organization such as Milestones Autism Resources grew out of these get-togethers.”
In what kinds of ways has Milestones helped your family?
“Before there was a Milestones, I had nobody to collaborate with. Nobody to brainstorm with. Nobody to obtain any education. Everything was done alone. Milestones helped me to navigate the complicated village that [my daughter] Sari has. Milestones has also helped to design a model for supporting the residential and social-emotional needs of young adults on the spectrum. Sari, along with three other young adults, lives in Beechmont Towers in a semi-autonomous arrangement with community support services first outlined by Milestones and in partnership with families and various service providers.
We have felt that we have been able to help other families and give back through regular referrals to Milestones.”
Do you attend the annual conference? Why would you recommend the conference for other families?
“The Milestones conference is an excellent hub to find resources. What the organization has done is to shine a light that the condition impacts all walks of life — all races, class, religions. It has really helped inform and educate the community at large. Our daughters have attended and worked at the conference as volunteers, as has my 87-year-old mother-in-law. Barb has also attended from time to time.”
Why is it important for families of individuals with ASD to feel a part of a community?
“The diagnosis is almost always a shock. Followed by denial, anger and several other emotional rollercoasters. Having a trusted resource in the community as you navigate the new, life-altering reality is hugely valuable. Over time, and over your child’s lifespan, we as parents and our family at large, have found the community in Cleveland to be a source of strength and support. Every milestone in our daughter’s life affords us an opportunity to celebrate with the community. Every challenge we face is made easier by the collective shoulder of the community support here.”
In terms of therapy, resources, etc. — what has made the biggest difference for your child?
“Speech pathology, integrative physical therapies and workforce training have been the central difference makers for our daughter.”
Tell us your child’s most recent “milestone.”
“Sari’s semi-independent living arrangement at Beechmont is a major milestone.”
What was your most recent “milestone” as a parent?
“Recognition at the annual Milestones benefit last year. I shared remarks about how it takes a village to raise a child (taking inspiration from the African proverb). And for the families that were recognized that night, we all know it takes a village to raise a child. And the village is very much both your immediate family and extended to the community that our kids are blessed to be a part of. Milestones has played a huge part in the village that takes to raise our community’s children and we are very, very proud of that.”
What advice would you offer to parents of children with ASD?
“As hard as it is, try not to become overwhelmed with the gigantic picture. I remember well-meaning people saying to us, ‘Oh my goodness, will Sari ever be able to live on her own?’ When you say that to a parent of a 6-year-old it’s the last thing he or she is thinking about. I’m just wondering how my daughter will get through kindergarten. You can’t give someone a magic calming pill. Also, some people are worried in general, regardless of the child having special challenges. But you have to keep pushing the bar. That is really important. Don’t think, ‘She can’t do that.’ For all the reasons why you could imagine that it couldn’t happen, those are the things to look forward to.”
[Photo: New Image Photography]
Our team is currently spending time on Capitol Hill representing Northeast Ohio, connecting with the national #ASD community & making our voices heard. We’re even lucky enough to spend time in private meetings today with staff from both Senator Rob Portman and Senator Sherrod Brown‘s offices!
So far the major takeaways from today have been that, together, we should work to mobilize, educate and talk to as many people as possible in order to foster community and affect change. It’s incredibly important to engage family, friends and neighbors to share your unique experiences and drive understanding.
“What happens on the local level can inform policy,” says Katy Neas, Easter Seals’ Executive Vice President for Public Affairs. We couldn’t agree more!
In that spirit, we encourage you to tell your story and connect with us in social media using the hashtag #MyMilestones. We look forward to a 2017 of working together to build the future we want to see for our families, community and ourselves.