Raising a child is a demanding job for any parent, especially when supportive resources seem to be elusive or nonexistent. For families whose children have special needs, the task can be even harder.
California State University, Northridge special education professor Ivor Weiner has spent most of his professional life working to ensure those with special needs and their families get the support and respect they deserve. For his efforts, Weiner has been awarded one of the California State University’s highest honors, the Wang Family Excellence Award.
The honor is given each year to four CSU faculty members and one CSU administrator for their exemplary achievements and contributions to the CSU system. The awards, which include $20,000 to each recipient, were established through a gift from CSU Trustee Emeritus Stanley T. Wang and administered through the CSU Foundation. Weiner will formally receive the honor on Jan. 30 at a meeting of the CSU Board of Trustees in Long Beach.
Weiner said he was thrilled to receive the honor, noting that he found out he had been selected for the Wang Award just before the holidays.
“It was a great holiday gift,” he said.
In his letter to Weiner informing him of the honor, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said the Wang Family Excellence Award recipients, “through extraordinary commitment and dedication, have distinguished themselves in their academic disciplines or university assignments.”
CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison said she was proud to nominate Weiner for the Wang Award.
“Dr. Weiner has a stellar record of achievement and contribution at CSUN, spanning more than 15 years,” Harrison said. “His work demonstrates extraordinary commitment, truly enhancing our reputation for excellence in teaching, research and community engagement.”
Weiner — a leader in the field of special education, particularly working with those with disabilities — was singled out for his work with the Family Focus Resource Center.
The center, housed in CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education, provides parent-to-parent support, education and information to parents and caregivers of children with special needs and the professionals who serve them. It works closely with the North Los Angeles County Regional Center — a nonprofit organization that provides and facilitates support services for individuals and families of people with developmental disabilities. The center provides and facilitates support services to more than 1,500 families and individuals throughout north Los Angeles County, including the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys.
Weiner said winning the Wang Award is an acknowledgement of the “powerful” work being done by the staff of the Family Focus Resource Center, most of whom have children with disabilities and can empathize with the struggles their clients face as they try to navigate medical, educational or governmental agencies and organizations that are supposed to help them.
“We embrace the parents who come to us, which is at about the time they learn their child has a disability, and we apply a strength-based approach,” Weiner said. “This is not a doom-and-gloom diagnosis. There will be challenges, but there will be triumphs as well. Our job is to give parents the support and tools to overcome the bureaucracy so that their children can succeed to their fullest potential.”
The center also works closely with CSUN students to give them hands-on experience working with children with special needs and their families. Over the years, Weiner has secured more than $6 million in grant funding to support the center and its various outreach efforts, including a mobile van that goes out into the community to provide screening services.
Weiner, who has been a faculty member at CSUN since 2001, pointed out that the center does a lot of outreach in underrepresented communities to ensure families know about the resources that are out there to help them. Center representatives are often the first people to inform those families of all the resources available to them, and to provide them assistance in accessing those resources.
“Families come to us for one of three reasons,” he said. “They just found out that their child has been diagnosed at an early age. The sooner we can get to those children, the better the prognosis because we can start early intervention. Or, they come to us later in life. Maybe their child’s in middle school and is experiencing problems. The school isn’t providing sufficient special education services, and they need intervention. We are also able to help them at that point.
“And we have a lot of adults who are seeking a diagnosis late in life,” he said. “They come to us asking for referrals to medical professionals.”
For Weiner, helping the families and individuals who come to the center is personal. His daughter was diagnosed with severe autism when she was 2.
“I have advanced degrees in special education and access to tons of resources,” he said. “But when I got that diagnosis, all of that went out the window and emotions took over. Now, imagine you are parents without all the expertise and qualifications that I have, and you receive a diagnosis that your child has special needs. And then, try to navigate all these complex organizations — medical, educational — that you are supposed to go to for help. It can be overwhelming.
“The transformation I see in the families we help is inspiring,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s just knowing that there is someone on their side, who has been through it. Who can tell them, ‘It will be okay. I have gone through it too, and you will come out all right in the end.’ There is a great level of empowerment that can come from that.”
Weiner said his daughter, Layla, now a CSUN student, was elated when she learned he received the Wang Award.
“She has been the inspiration and major influence in my work,” he said. “So, in many ways, the honor is for her as well.”