Michael Bender, Ed.D.

"I intended to stay two years. That two years turned into 38 years. I got hooked."

View full interview to learn more about the beginnings of special education at Kennedy Krieger and how this wonderful addition to the Institute almost didn't happen.

Michael Bender is the retired vice-president of education at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

He came to the Institute in 1972 as a training coordinator in the education program. "I intended to stay two years," he said. "That two years turned into 38 years. I got hooked."

At the time he arrived the education program was very small, serving just 13 children with a range of physical and emotional disabilities. At the time, there was no legal mandate for public schools to provide education for children with special needs, he notes. Seeking to grow the Institute's education program, Dr. Bender approached the school board in Baltimore City, which gave him the go-ahead to recruit children with special needs from the neighborhoods surrounding the Institute.

Dr. Bender went door to door in the neighborhood, asking parents if their children's needs were being met by the public schools. Many were not. "When we got them to the Institute we found that they needed speech therapy and other services," he says.

Year by year, the program grew. "We had every type of kid," he notes, "many with cerebral palsy, many with learning disabilities, some with intellectual disability."

The Institute was one of the first places that recognized that children with physical, emotional or behavioral difficulties needed more than education, he says. "They needed interdisciplinary services -- speech and language therapy, physical and occupational therapy, psychiatric and medical services."

The support of the Institute's leadership was critical to the education program's growth, Dr. Bender says. "Education was always an important component of the Institute. The leadership has been supportive in so many ways."

Parents too have been integral to the program's success, he says. "If it weren't for the parents, the program probably wouldn't have existed," he says. "They felt that we were providing something they needed and couldn't find elsewhere."

Visit specialeducation.kennedykrieger.org to learn more about the Institute's educational programs.

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