I used to work as a caregiver for kids with special needs. And I absolutely loved it.
What I didn’t love was filling out the mountains of paperwork used to track what a caregiver has done when they meet with a client. Not only did it take away from the time I had to directly interact with the kids, it seemed more perfunctory and maintenance-driven as opposed to purposeful and innovation-driven, and I began to wonder if there was a way to use all the information being recorded to make a real difference in their lives.
After noticing patterns of behavior from which I could predict with pretty high accuracy how a child would respond in certain situations, I realized the answer to that question was “yes.” I started paying more attention to things like individual triggers, coping mechanisms, and incentive structures, and in doing so, realized that if we could do a better job collecting and keeping track of this information, we could use it in a way that would help us become better, more responsive caregivers to kids with special needs.
For example, one of the things I noticed about a child I cared for was that if she wasn’t able to use her coping mechanism in response to a particular trigger – in this case, her coping mechanism was to go to the bathroom – she would exhibit a high-intensity behavior. Since caregivers change all the time, I was constantly having to ask previous caregivers questions to get up to speed. If that information was recorded and stored in a secure platform, we could know about her triggers in advance and prepare to allow her to go to the bathroom to cope, which would enable us to avoid that high-intensity behavioral response. Making that connection made her life, and mine in caring for her, much less stressful.
It was through this experience that I realized the positive impact this kind of research and analysis can have if used on a much greater scale. If we could tap into the kind of data that the government asks caregivers to collect and file away for a future audit– things like Daily Journal Sheets and Habilitation Progress Sheets – and analyze it, we could turn quantifiable actions into qualitative improvements, and turn something regulatory into something revolutionary. I was determined to figure out how I could take all that unused data and apply it in ways that could make a real difference in these kids’ lives.
That possibility is what inspired me to learn more about data science. Through that 13-week bootcamp, I learned how to track patterns, draw insights from data, and perform behavioral analysis better than I was previously. And after graduating, I used those skills to turn my passion for helping individuals with special needs into an actual tool that caregivers, teachers, parents, or anyone who knows or works with someone with developmental disabilities can one day use to be a better caregiver.
There’s a huge opportunity for this in schools. Teachers have the incredibly difficult job of meeting the unique needs of each of their approximately 20 students – and very limited time to do so, between all the lesson planning and grading they need to do, in addition to actual classroom time spent teaching. With the right tools, instead of spending months trying to figure out what triggers each student, how they best cope, and what incentivizes them the most, they can meet their students’ needs more quickly and effectively than ever before.
My goal is to one day scale this use of data science to the public education system, and it’s one that at its core should be universally shared: tapping into readily available data to make a meaningful impact on the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and those that care for them.