UCF researcher provides resources for professionals to help young children with developmental disabilities

Through her research and contracts with the Florida Department of Health, Division of Children’s Medical Services, Jacqueline Towson informs best practices in training teachers, speech-language pathologists, and other clinical service providers to better meet the language and literacy needs of young children with special needs. She is uniquely qualified to do this work due to her background in special education as well as her experience and training as a speech-language pathologist.

Towson’s focus on training tools and evaluating the effectiveness of those tools allows him to expand his impact exponentially to other educators and clinicians.

For almost 15 years before coming to UCF,Towson served in the Georgia and Texas public school systems as a speech-language pathologist and early childhood special education teacher; and later, as an administrator of these programs. As rewarding as this work was for her, she wanted to expand her impact to more children, beyond her school district.

Her passion has always been to improve access and equality to early language and literacy skills for young children through speech therapy and early intervention services, Towson says. She believes in implementing evidence-based practices into systems that already exist.

“Early language and literacy is the gateway to everything for kids,” says Towson.

She was recently named a statewide Principal Investigator, Technical assistance and training support(STATS). It supports programs for pre-kindergarten children with disabilities by providing technical assistance and training.

Towson helps lead a team of professionals committed to providing best practice resources to teachers and therapists who work with children ages 3-5 receiving exceptional parenting services. TATS is based at UCF, with staff providing technical assistance and training in six regions across the state.

Using his strength and previous assessment experiences, Towson recently secured a contract with the Early Steps program, creating a professional learning system to support the statewide implementation of the survey. on child outcomes (COS). This system will help early intervention service providers use the tool with fidelity to better assess program outcomes. The COS is an established tool that examines items such as cognition, coping skills, social skills, and more upon entry and exit from early childhood special education programs. Towson hopes to establish continuity between the Early Steps program and preschool programs for children with special needs. She surrounds herself with students on this contract, including doctoral students, masters students and undergraduates.

Towson says the most effective systems are built by working alongside stakeholders in real-time, rather than the traditional kick-off, assess, and cluster work method. She says incorporating stakeholder feedback as they develop the professional learning system allows everyone to see more quickly if it is working as intended.

Through her research, Towson has shared best practices for early learning acquisition through more than 55 peer-reviewed national and international conference presentations since 2013 and more than 20 publications during her time at UCF.

One of Towson’s greatest professional motivations is knowing that there are children and families who find themselves without services due to a lack of staff available to help them.

To that end, she was recently co-PI on a $1.25 million personnel readiness grant from the United States Department of Education that allows graduate students to earn a certificate that prepares them for work. with children with very intense needs who require specialized intervention in language and literacy.

“I want to teach others how to teach, and that’s exactly what I do across all of my roles – whether it’s teaching in a classroom, working with TATS, or helping to develop and to improve the tools we use to assess outcomes,” Towson said.

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