She came to Erikson to focus on the ‘whole child’

Talin Tokat first walked into Erikson Institute as a curious visitor. Soon, she’ll be a proud graduate ready to pursue her dream of advocating for children and families.

Exploring a career in speech pathology, Tokat was working as a speech language assistant at a pediatric clinic prior to enrolling at Erikson. While she enjoyed helping her young clients with their unique needs, she discovered she really wanted to focus on the “whole child.” One day her boss asked Tokat to tag along with her to a continuing education seminar at Erikson.

“That’s literally how I got in the door at Erikson,” she says. “Right away I decided a master’s degree in child development was the way to go. I loved the idea of delving into different domains of a child’s growth, from cognitive and social-emotional to physical, and broadening my knowledge of children.”

Policymaking for children and families

When Tokat enrolled at Erikson, her future plans called for working with children with disabilities but not necessarily in a direct service capacity. During her second year in the master’s program, a new specialization in Children’s Law and Policy was added to the M.S. in Child Development program. This novel focus has pointed Tokat toward a career in special needs advocacy, where she can help ensure children and families are not denied their rights to appropriate services.

Erikson students gain valuable field experience during their time in the graduate program, and Tokat’s interest in advocacy led to an internship with the Ounce of Prevention Fund. A member of The Ounce’s Illinois Policy Team, Tokat strives to make lawmakers aware of the organization’s progress on a variety of early childhood initiatives.

As an intern, she also helped organize the first Illinois Early Childhood Inclusion Policy Summit held at Illinois State University. The February summit drew early childhood leaders from across the state to develop priorities for improving policy to support young children in Illinois. A concern has been the lack of inclusion of children with disabilities in classrooms with their typically developing peers—a roadblock to developing meaningful relationships and learning together. Tokat’s background in working with children with disabilities proved essential as she helped to prepare materials and served as a small group facilitator for the conference.

“This internship has been eye opening,” she says. “It’s cool to see how policy achieves the goal of helping children but in a much different and more wide-ranging way than helping one child, for example, learn to speak his or her first word.”

Supportive learning environment

Internships round out the education that Erikson students receive by providing real-life experiences. The program also requires that students attend regular on-campus seminars during their internship year. Under the guidance of a faculty member, students come together in a small group setting to share challenges and triumphs they encounter away from the classroom.

“Because we are in our placements on our own, these seminars are our home base,” says Tokat. “They provide a safe space where we can learn from and hash out strategies for each other.”

The ability to be reflective and supportive is central to the seminars—and, in fact, to the entire Erikson experience, Tokat says.

“The discussions with classmates and professors have shaped my knowledge, and the relationships I have built with them have truly been invaluable,” she says. “I feel so lucky to be well equipped with tools for the future.”

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