Q&A With the Family Center at OCALI

The Family Center at OCALI connects families to the information they need regarding services, supports, training and resources, including the free OCALI Lending Library. It offers training and products to help families and to support agencies serving them.

Learn more about the Family Center in this Q&A with the program director, Teresa Kobelt.

Logo of the Family Center at OCALI
The Family Center at OCALI connects families to the information they need regarding services, supports, training and resources

What is one thing you want people to know about the Family Center?

We often receive calls from people who think we’re a direct service provider. I hate having to tell families — who are often making lots of phone calls trying to get connected to the right resource — that we don’t provide therapies or interventions. So, it’s important for families and agencies to know what we DO offer — I don’t want families to have to make one more phone call only to find out it’s not what they were looking for, or not what they thought they were calling about. We provide tools and resources to empower and equip families to understand the system and what they need to live their best lives. If they have a question about what autism is, want to hear advice from other families, learn strategies to support their child — they can find it here, but they can’t find occupational therapy or speech therapy. We also want to make it clear that “family” includes the person with the disability.

The Family Center has many resources available online. What are the top resources that you would recommend to families of children with autism and other disabilities?

First, for families and people who are new to the diagnosis of autism, I would recommend the Many Faces of Autism introductory course. This is one of the most important resources OCALI offers. I think every family can benefit from this — and benefit from sharing it with anyone and everyone in their family’s life. Another great resource and one of the Family Center’s newest is ASD: A Basic Introduction, which is available in English and Spanish. This is something we can imagine parents reading as soon as they receive the diagnosis. We also have lots of links and resources available in our resource gallery, along with family favorites, including our podcast series and top-10 lists for families. We have so many valuable resources available at no cost to families.

When thinking about the work and impact of the Family Center, what is something that you’re most proud of?

One of the things that we do really well is connect people. Recently, we pulled several parent groups together to hear from them and find out what is important to them. When we do this, we learn together and are able to better provide support and resources that are meaningful and relevant to families. As a direct result of this, we’re working together on a parent leadership series we hope to roll out this fall. I’m proud of the partnerships that we’ve created and hope that we can continue to expand those partnerships so more and more families can benefit from what the Family Center and OCALI have to offer.

August is back to school month. For those who don’t know about the Family Center, what is something you would want them to know?

The Family Center has been working with stakeholders from education to launch a family leadership development series we’re calling, “The Power of Partnership.” Through a series of online trainings, mentoring, networking, learning, and leadership experiences, Ohio families who have a school-aged (entering preschool through high school) member with a disability will:
•    Learn how special education works in Ohio.
•    Build relationships with other families across the state.
•    Understand the importance of their role.
•    Participate in leadership and partnership opportunities.
More information and an on-line application will be coming this fall. Stay tuned!

Additionally, we hope families will take advantage of the discounted registration price for families and join us at OCALICON 2018 for “Strategy Smackdown: Home and Family.” This quick-paced session is participant led, providing a brief amount of time for audience members to share, demonstrate, highlight, and overview ideas and examples. We encourage you to bring your thoughts, manipulatives, apps, and models to share with the group. In addition to sharing an idea or example, participants will share its features and components, how it supports individuals, why it is useful or beneficial, and how it can be transferable for use by those in attendance.

Inspiring change is part of OCALI’s mission. Describe how the Family Center is ‘inspiring change’ for families of children with autism and other disabilities?

When I think about inspiring change, I think about some of the major shifts we’ve seen from a policy standpoint, like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and recognize that families, including people with disabilities, have been behind these massive shifts and changes in our systems. I think the timing for another wave of system shift is on the rise, and families will play a big part of inspiring that change. If we give families information, tools, and knowledge, they can help be the change they want to see — they are the ones inspiring change. To me, that’s what inspiring change is all about.

Describe your role/job as a program director.

My typical day is meeting with other Center directors to make sure families are included and their voices are represented. I also participate in state and national meetings and conferences where my goal is to bring the voices of the families who have children with autism and other disabilities to the table. I also regularly communicate with families — I have to stay connected.

What is your favorite part about working with OCALI?

My background is state and systems policy, so I enjoy thinking about policy opportunities and what can be done to positively impact families who have children with autism and other disabilities. I like to think about how we can work together on breaking down barriers.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I am training for the Columbus Marathon. While I’m an avid runner, it’s my first full marathon.  Every time I do a race, my kids think I can actually win the entire race. They love to see my medals, and I love that they think it’s possible for me to win first place.