Megan Kirshbaum, Ph.D. Founder and Executive Director
In 1982, with the support of my husband, Hal Kirshbaum, I founded Through the Looking Glass (TLG) to develop model services for infants, children and parents with disabilities and their families. The goal was to (1) bring a disability culture perspective to early preventive intervention with families with disability/medical issues in infant/child or parent; and (2) to bring awareness about families and parenthood to the independent living community.
Hal and I first set up Through the Looking Glass in a converted garage in the backyard of our Berkeley home. “The cabin” – as it’s fondly known among our staff-- has two small rooms joined by a bathroom.
During the early years of TLG's services, parents with disabilities reported many problems with bias and pathologizing by professionals. We discovered that attitudinal problems were also reflected in research and writing about parents with disabilities and their children. We became interested in doing family research from the perspective of the disability community.
From the beginning we emphasized a "non-pathological" perspective in both clinical services and research. Rather than emphasizing deficits in individuals with disabilities and their families we emphasized lessening the deficits in society that create obstacles in the lives of our families. TLG's research has therefore particularly documented the strengths of parents with disabilities and their families, the environmental/social obstacles faced, and the impact of disability appropriate parenting resources, such as babycare adaptive equipment for parents with physical disabilities, or adaptations in intervention for parents with cognitive disabilities.
When we identified pathological preconceptions we examined and challenged them. For instance the generalized assumption that children of parents with disabilities are "parentified" has been addressed in a series of research projects focused so far on infancy, school-age children, and teenagers.
During research and services we gathered the solutions of experienced and mentor parents with disabilities and channeled their knowledge to new parents or newly disabled parents or families who were particularly stressed.
TLG has had a particular commitment to training mental health and developmental practitioners who have personal or family disability experience; more than 80% of our staff have such experience. We have sought staff with diversity in perspective, fostering teamwork between individuals with and without personal disability experience, individuals with diverse family roles, from diverse cultures and professional disciplines. We think this diversity in perspective helps us be more sensitive to difference in families and fuels our development and creativity as a work community. Even our name, Through the Looking Glass, underscores the valuing of different perspectives, which we consider to be one of the strengths of disability experience.
Over the years TLG had an increasingly central role in the national disability community, networking, providing training and consultation regarding parents with all disabilities and their children. This national networking role led to TLG's current National Center for Parents with Disabilities and its international conferences. All of this work is part of an effort to increase and support more appropriate resources for parents with disabilities and their children.
Looking back on the past thirty-three years I'm astounded at how many obstacles we have overcome. We have been a David competing with or advocating for change with so many Goliaths! Now with over 60 staff in our new facilities including an Early Head Start Center at the Ed Roberts Campus (which was a big step up from my renovated garage), we plan to continue to be a catalyst for innovation. We are still committed to changing the world for our families. Join us in that effort!
Through the Looking Glass is now in its 33rd year of operations. We’ve come a long way since our early days back in the ‘80’s – emerging from Berkeley’s Independent Living Movement to pioneer nationally recognized services, training and research concerning families with disabilities. Over the years, we’ve expanded from providing direct services to local families in the Bay Area to becoming the first national center to focus on parents with disabilities in 1993. Our National Center currently provides information, consultation, materials and training regarding the over 4 million U.S. parents with disabilities who have children under age 18. We’ve also conducted several national research projects, trained over 100,000 parents and professionals, and authored numerous articles, books, videos and other publications.
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For more on background history that influenced the creation of Through the Looking Glass, the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California Berkeley chronicles the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement in the early years in Berkeley. You can hear audio or read transcripts with pioneers in the movement including interviews with TLG founders Megan and Hal Kirshbaum.