Dora AcostaDora Acosta - Member of the Month

IDA is so happy to honor Dora Acosta as our November Member of the Month.

Dora Acosta grew up in Ensenada, Mexico and in 1980 moved to San Diego. Here in San Diego, she worked in different venues and started community college. She eventually transferred to UCSD to complete a BA in Psychology, and then went on to SDSU for a Master´s in Early Childhood Special Education and at the same time completed an Interdisciplinary Certificate Program in Early Intervention.

Dora worked with several researchers in both UCSD (University of California San Diego) and SDSU (San Diego State University). In 1993-94 Dora founded beginnings Infant Program. Dora has experienced a great learning curve all these years.

At beginnings, they have been providing services to many children in the larger San Diego area for close to 30 years. Dora pushes each person at the office to become the best EI (Early Interventionist) around and beyond town.

Dora is looking forward to the year that a credential for EI will be necessary to work with all these children and families. She questions why ST, OT, PT, teachers, etc. need a credential and why Early Interventionists don't? Dora feels that Early Interventionists will become stronger as a group if we all have a credential, and that we will then be able to ask for better pay, and we will belong to a group in which we all create and follow certain expectations.

A Lifetime of Learning
Dora is a true testament to the adage “never stop learning.” She started to become interested in working with children while working with the Psycholinguistics department as a research assistant at UCSD. Through a research grant on how children learn a second language she got to spend many hours recording and transcribing recordings of families and children. After finishing her BA at UCSD, she followed her mentor who went on to San Diego State. Her mentor encouraged her to go on for a master’s in child development, and to get a certificate in Early Intervention. Dora recalls that she was nervous about whether she would be able to go through the program because she was pregnant at the time, however her mentor just encouraged her to continue.

After graduating with her master’s, she went to work as an early interventionist at a community clinic. She was happy in her job and described how she continued to read more and more books to learn her craft. Abruptly Dora got fired from that job, and although she was devastated, she can now look back on the experience and reflect that it was the best thing that could have happened to her. A doctor with the San Diego Regional Center(SDRC) encouraged and helped Dora apply as an SDRC vendor. She recalls that she was anxious about how she could run a company and raise her children while her husband was finishing his PhD. She recruited some friends to work with her and helped turn a difficult situation into something good.

Dora felt that as she worked in early intervention, she kept finding how much more she needed to learn. As she clearly points out, even with a master’s in child development, you really don’t learn how to be an early interventionist. There are so many other areas of knowledge you need in your job such as learning about domestic violence and trauma to support some of the families you serve. She talked about how during the early nineties the mortality rate began to improve for preemie babies born before 23 weeks. She still remembers the first time she had a 23-week preemie on her caseload and then realized she needed to then be trained in NDT (Neurodevelopmental Treatment) and went on to participate in several short courses in NDT.

Dora continued to expand her early intervention knowledge, as she encountered new cases, she worked hard to learn something new to better serve her families. Dora worked with a mother who had substance abuse problems and saw how hard this mother was working to keep her baby safe and keep the baby with her, despite having a serious drug addiction problem. The experience with that mother convinced her that she needed to learn about infant mental health. She applied with some colleagues and was accepted into the Napa Infant-Parent Mental Health fellowship program. She applied with a colleague and participated in some of the wonderful courses Napa Infant-Parent Mental Health fellowship program brought to Napa at that time.

Over the years she recruited other teachers and grew her program. Training her employees is a high priority for Dora. She has her new clinicians watch videos prepared by Child Development Media that Margie Wagner , a former IDA board member, created. She then has her employees answer questions and reflect back to her what they learned. The videos cover a broad range of topics including working with infants and toddlers at different age levels, working with children with down syndrome, sign language, how to administer assessments and how to do home visits in early intervention. She pairs new clinicians with experienced teachers so the new clinicians can observe how to work with families in their homes and decide whether early intervention is really a good fit for them. Dora explains that early intervention is not like other jobs because no matter how much training you provide, you could never create a manual with all the scenarios you are going to run into when doing home visits because there is always something new. She only makes transition from experienced teachers to new clinicians when she sees that new clinician has made a connection with the family. Dora believes in working as a team and reflected on how beneficial it is for infant educators to partner with other disciplines such as PTs, OTs and SLPs. She feels that partnership helps EIs learn about all aspects of child development and are therefore better able to serve families.

Dora feels fortunate that she was on a team in San Diego who were able to choose a program to treat young children with autism as she was trained in Project Impact through Rady Children’s Hospital. Dora has trained her staff and they offer Project Impact throughout San Diego. Dora is a true believer in Project Impact, as she was able to see the changes in children and families after participating in the program. Dora was invited to China to present on how to work with children through Project Impact.

Dora talked about how she fell in love with her job when she did home visits. Dora liked to keep notes of what the child was learning, and she would use those notes to remind the parent of when their child reached important milestones. Dora remembered how delighted parents were when someone else remembered those precious achievements that are so meaningful to them. For Dora, that is what early intervention is all about, building relationships with the child and family.

Keeping it in the family
Dora talked about how her daughter is very similar to her, changing her career and becoming interested in learning new things all the time. Although her daughter studied art and traveled all over the world she eventually returned to San Diego and started working with EI families. She went to hear Bruce Perry speak at a conference in LA. Her daughter returned from the conference and could not stop talking about what she learned and how she wanted to learn more. She then enrolled at SDSU pursuing a program in Infant Mental Health and will be pursuing her clinical hours at Rady Children’s Hospital. Dora feels her daughter has finally found her niche and will hopefully take over beginnings some day from her.

Longtime member of IDA
Dora has been a member of IDA for a long time, she recalls meeting Fran Chasen, who convinced her, and other local friends interested in helping babies to create a San Diego chapter for IDA. All the members worked with the zero to three population through the county or school, and they knew they needed to get more people involved. They all felt it was important for other vendors to get training for their early interventionists. Dora fondly recalled how they would drive or fly together to San Francisco to participate in the IDA board meetings and to learn in the IDA conferences. She remembered how she felt supported by IDA. Dora expressed how happy she was that IDA provided training on teletherapy and parent coaching during the Covid pandemic that her staff was able to participate in.

We want to thank Dora not only for her years of support and membership at IDA but for also for her passion and years of service to the early intervention community. Congratulations Dora!