Professional expertise, personal passion

Dr. Leigh O’Brien can recall the moment when her professional life melded with her personal life: when her three-year-old daughter, Lydia, was identified with having special learning needs. As an expert in inclusive education, Dr. O’Brien knew she would have to act as her daughter’s fiercest advocate to avoid her being marginalized in the school system.

Dr. O’Brien is a Professor of Education at State University of New York at Geneseo and a Fulbright Visiting Specialist to UPEI. She is delivering a public talk Thursday, March 1 at 7 pm at Murphy’s Community Centre in Charlottetown, entitled: “I love Lydia: Mother as Early Childhood Teacher.”

“I still remember the moment when someone at Lydia’s school told me that I was ruining her life by insisting on her inclusion,” says Dr. O’Brien. “Throughout her early schooling, I had to actively advocate for her participation in what was considered a normal classroom.”

Dr. O’Brien will present a 30-minute talk about what she has learned about inclusion in education: a system that ensures students of all abilities are educated together and have equal access to learning and achievement.

“Lydia is now 18,” explains Dr. O’Brien. “Her current school is set up to expect diversity in students, and as a result, she is thriving. She’s preparing to go to college next year, which is something we were told early on not to expect.”

Lydia will also speak briefly about her own journey through the education system, and there will be time for members of the audience to share their own stories.

“Having a daughter with special needs didn’t change my beliefs about inclusive education, but it certainly solidified my understanding that people in all fields of education need to step up to be advocates for every child’s rights.”

Dr. O’Brien’s public talk is presented by the PEI Literacy Alliance and is limited to 30 participants. To register, call (902) 368-3620.