Denise CarbonDenise Carbon - Member of the Month

IDA is thrilled to honor Denise Carbon as our member of the month. She recently celebrated her 20th anniversary as an IDA member! We thank Denise for her many years of membership, previous service on the IDA board, and continuous help spreading the word about IDA on social media. Most of all, we honor Denise for the passion she brings to serving her early intervention families.

Denise's Journey to Early Intervention
As with many of us in the special education world, a personal connection brought Denise to early intervention. She shared that she had ten family members with various disabilities and delays. These disabilities include autism, seizures, learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, deaf and hard of hearing, speech delay, medically fragile, hyper- and hypotonia, orthopedic issues, and ADHD.

Denise had an older brother who was non-verbal and had sensory issues.  Her mother talked to her about how hard it was to raise a child with special needs, particularly how it affected her mental health. Those stories and experiences shaped Denise's philosophy that to help children, you must first help parents with their own mental health and sense of helplessness. For example, Denise's mother taught her to be a fierce advocate, ask questions, and know when to challenge when you want something for the children and family.

Denise has had three disabilities, which also inspired her passion for inclusion. As a recipient of EI (early intervention) before EI existed, her mom received strategies for physical therapy ideas while changing her diaper. Now, Denise likes to provide tips to the families she works with during their children's daily routines. Also, as an adult, Denise had two more disabilities which helped her understand the parent's point of view at a deeper level of how hard it is to advocate for what you need.

Denise's bachelor's degree is in psychology from UC San Diego with two minors in child development and theatre. She started her career working in medical settings, including for a Chief surgeon at UC San Diego, as the Canine Care Coordinator at Children’s Hospital San Diego, working in Child Life, and at a camp for children with cancer and their siblings. Following graduation, she headed back north to be closer to her family, working at Stanford Children's Hospital in the high-risk maternity ward and the NICU.  Promoting to the Infant Development Clinic Coordinator, Denise participated in research on what preemies need and facilitated referrals to the regional center.

From this experience, Denise decided she wanted to be the person providing the early intervention services, not just the referrals. She returned to school for a Master's and teaching credential in Early Childhood Special Education at San Francisco State.  Denise's first EI home visitor role was at Tri-Cities Children's Center (now Kidango), where former board member Karen Baas introduced her to IDA and relationship-based training. A lifelong learner, Denise went on to acquire the Transdisciplinary Infant-Family and Early Childhood Mental Health Practitioner endorsement. Denise continued to do home visits, work in inclusive classrooms, run EI classrooms, and also became the regional center EI referral coordinator at C.A.R./Abilities United (now AbilityPath). Denise's passion for parent groups began when she started running parent support groups here. She saw how important it is to bring parents together to learn from each other and know they are not alone. She recognized that although children may have unique disabilities, the similarities are greater than the differences.

Denise started Special Advantage after witnessing parents' frustration with not getting what they felt their child needed and asking her for support in providing services and helping them advocate. Special Advantage provides a myriad of services and programs. However, one service she has emphatically continued is her complimentary parent support and discussion group. When everything shut down during Covid, Denise recognized that the parents needed support more than ever and rapidly switched the group to a zoom meeting and opened it up. Participants from all over the US and the world have been participating.

As a lifelong learner, in 2008, when the California budget cuts hit, Denise realized she needed more tools to help parents and went on for training in mental health work for families and gained a deeper knowledge of life coaching, neuroscience work, and time dynamics. Denise feels that parents don't need to be stuck in mental health issues. We can help them immediately, allowing her role with families to be at a much deeper level.

Thoughts on the Early Intervention System in California and Ways to Improve Service Delivery
Denise shared her EI philosophy of working with families from a strength-based rather than deficit-based position and how important it is to empower the parents.  She feels that reminding the parents that they are the experts on their children, have a voice, and can help each other as a parent community is paramount. Denise saw during Covid that parents really got an opportunity to see what their kids were struggling with. In addition, through social media, parents are more aware and trust their gut instinct to request referrals to EI. On the flip side, Denise shared feedback from parents and providers that although we are doing a good job streamlining getting into EI, parents find a fragmented and broken system. They are not getting what they need.

Denise's vision for improving the system is for a change in mindset in California that families are the customers, and these customers are scared, fed up, and struggling. She feels that education is the solution for families and new providers. She sees IDA as the beacon to pull together people in this fragmented system to collaborate and develop solutions to these issues. Denise left this advice for new clinicians, "Don't be afraid to admit I don't know about this and put on a lifelong learner hat that will serve you for your entire career." Denise tells her parents that “Early intervention is like a roller coaster with ups and downs. It's a ride they didn't sign up for, so they need to ask questions, seek information, and join a parent group." Denise added that improving EI in California includes viewing EI as a holistic family-focused approach. This means wrapping support around the family, remembering that what is important is the relationship between the parent and the child, not between the child and practitioners. Professionals can help parents find their joy again. For early intervention to work it should be fun for the child and the parent; that is how children will learn best.


Denise's words of wisdom, "People with special needs are amazing; we just need to give them an opportunity to be seen to show what they can do."