Jessica Mattson loves working with families and young children with special needs.
As a teacher with the San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) HOPE Infant Family Support Program, she typically visits two or three families each day, helping them ensure that their children with disabilities and developmental delays thrive.
"I can't picture myself doing anything different," she said.
When she was in college at UC San Diego, she became interested in working with young students with disabilities while studying autism. After graduation, she started working for the HOPE Infant program in a toddler school that was part of Rady Children's Hospital.
After working there a couple of years, she became a special education aide for HOPE Infant, working in the northern and southern ends of the county.
In 2004, she decided to go back to school to get a teaching credential and a master's degree. Three years later, she was hired as a credentialed teacher with the HOPE Infant program.
Mattson said she enjoys her job because of the relationships she's able to develop with families and because she's constantly learning something new.
"This is a job that humbles you because you never know everything," she said.
In addition to visiting and working with families, she also collaborates with community agencies and supports preschools attended by children in the program.
She works from SDCOE's South County Regional Education Center with eight other teachers and four early intervention assistants as well as a variety of consultants with expertise in different areas. There are also many SDCOE teachers and assistants who work for the HOPE Infant program from the North County Regional Education Center.
HOPE Infant is a public special education program that offers services to infants and toddlers with special needs and their families. Children from birth to 3-years-old who are showing significant developmental delays or have a condition that can cause delays qualify for the services at no cost as part of California Early Start.
Teachers and assistants don't work directly with children, but work with parents to support healthy interactions and relationships. They help each family promote their child's development through a variety of tactics, include exploring different ways to play and interact, connecting them with other parents of children with special needs, and incorporating learning opportunities into daily routines and activities.
Although the work can be extremely rewarding, it can also be challenging, Mattson said. All of the employees in the HOPE Infant program support each other through any tough times, she said.
"HOPE's an amazing program," she said. "I think we have a positive impact."