It takes tenacity, confidence, and unfettered passion to make it as an entrepreneur in this world. Only an entrepreneur with these traits can identify a problem within the community, create a solution to that problem, and effectively communicate to buyers that they have solved a problem for them. That is exactly what one special needs doctor has done to provide a much-needed service, using her passion-driven insight to solve a serious societal issue.
Dr. JoQueta Handy, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, has dedicated her professional life to the understanding and betterment of special needs education both at home and in school. If you ask Dr. Handy, the current state of the special needs education system is undoubtedly broken, but through her new, innovative learning regimen, and backed by a number of biotechnology companies, she believes this education barrier can be broken down to create a new generation of brilliant children. Dr. Handy uses three types of entrepreneurial thinking to break the boundaries of special needs education and throw the door open to learning.
Identify the problem
Identifying a problem is the first step of entrepreneurial innovation. The most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder—a 30% increase from just two years previous. With this daunting statistic looming, Dr. Handy has spent 12 years analyzing the education of children, a project that began as a collaboration with teachers and parents to devise ways to more effectively teach children with learning disabilities. Recently, Handy decided to visit a classroom to get an insider’s perspective.
“I was visiting an Autism Spectrum Disorder class and noticed there was a movie playing in the background and all the children were glued to iPads,” says Handy. “I asked ‘What’s the lesson plan?’ and the teacher said that this was the lesson plan. I was shocked and taken aback.”
Even when there is a lesson plan in place, Handy believes they often are ill-fitting to children with special needs and just end in disinterest and frustration.
“We say there is a standard in special education, but there isn’t really,” says Handy. “Standardized testing just makes the child become a grade, a statistic, a number, and they are forgotten about.”
The problem with this way of thinking is that the individual needs of these young people are not acknowledged. Handy saw this way of thinking being treated as a norm in schools and decided to act upon it. The next step was to devise a course of action to approach effectively the problem.
Shift the paradigm
Most innovation comes as a result of thinking about things in a new light. This paradigm shift has led to breakthroughs such as discovering the link between autism and a critical chemical in the brain. Through her work in the field, Handy had her own revelation. This lack of education is not the student’s fault, or even the teacher’s. It is a fault in the system.
“It’s not because students with special needs aren’t capable. It’s because they aren’t given the opportunity,” says Handy. “Special needs curriculum is built around a concept of minimal gains, not trying to bridge the gap and realizing these children’s potential.”
Working directly in the classroom inspired Handy to look at special needs education with a different perspective. Instead of hoping a student adheres to a set of expectations, why not focus on the learner’s strengths and abilities? It was through this concept that Handy came to develop her specialized education regimen which she calls the Children’s Opportunity for Brilliance (COB).
To break the mold and provide a new way to do or think about something is the essence of what being an entrepreneur is. And more often than not, these paradigm-shifting ideas don’t just come out of thin air—it requires one to look at the situation from all angles and to find the approach that offers the most benefit to the consumer.
Scale the model
The COB model looks to combat traditional special needs education—instead of focusing on what the child can’t do, this method builds off of the child’s strengths to help realize their potential. The COB model is based on the need of the child and brings in a community effort—from teachers, parents, and doctors—in order to identify effective methods on a case-by-case basis.
Handy’s teaching method goes beyond special needs education, however. Handy says the method can be used for any curriculum and at any level of learning. This is because it is simply a way of understanding how each person can use their abilities to learn in the most effective way. Internal research conducted to evaluate the COB model saw a 70 percent improvement in students after just 16 hours of one-on-one instruction.
In congruence with the COB model, Handy also partnered with several institutions to augment her program’s effectiveness. Through her understanding as an Integrative Medicine doctor, she utilizes various supplements to promote healthy nutrition in her students. She has also partnered with various biotech companies to help her process. These technologies include BrainTap, a mind development tool that induces relaxation and reduces stress on the body, and Quantum Reflex Integration, which helps reduce excessive reflex tendencies.
Dr. Handy’s brilliance in identifying the problem, shifting the paradigm, and scaling are outgrowths of one rare, exceptional quality: Listening to your audience. Listening, ultimately, is the heart of entrepreneurship. Handy refers to her students as her “master teachers” who have guided her to create the program that she believes will be the catalyst to a paradigm shift in education.
“I have learned so much through these students, namely that we need to reject disease-based thinking,” says Handy. “It’s about looking at the student’s strengths and looking past labels that we always seem to put on a person.”