Five Questions … With Lauren Mangrum, Coordinator, Infants and Toddlers Program, Downcounty Site
If Lauren Mangrum had to pinpoint one reason why she is doing the job she is doing today, she would probably say it’s because of her mother.
Mangrum grew up in Silver Spring and graduated from Springbrook High School. Her father, Joseph Latta, was a dentist, and her mom, Barbara Latta, was the head nurse at the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C. When her mother was in her late 40s, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Doctors performed surgery to remove the tumor, which turned out to be benign. But they weren’t able to remove it all. Two years later, she underwent a second surgery, which resulted in a stroke.
“She had to learn how to be a person again,” Mangrum says. “My whole growing up was watching her re-learn to walk and talk, eat and dress. I remember vividly going to some of her water therapy with her. And watching her learn how to button her shirts again.
“She is such a survivor. If she can get up every day and do life, anybody can. She is the reason I am who I am.”
While she was in college at Hampton University, Mangrum began taking psychology courses. After just one semester, she knew that wasn’t the right field for her. Then, she did what she has often done through her life—she talked to her mom.
“She encouraged me to look into physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology,” Mangrum recalled. “She said, ‘I think you would enjoy these fields. You should go down to NIH and shadow someone.’ My mom had a lot of connections at NIH and she called one of her therapists for me. I did what she said and I loved it.”
She later transferred to Howard University, married and had her first child. She finished her undergrad degree, and later received a master’s degree. She was now a speech language pathologist.
Today, Mangrum is one of five coordinators for the Infants and Toddlers Program’s five sites; she has been in the job since August 2016. She is the youngest of the five coordinators and the only African American. “I’m very proud of that,” she says. “I think being the youngest helps with the technology piece of what we do; I’m always the one saying, ‘Shouldn’t we take a course on that?’ I want to make sure we’re always moving toward the latest innovation.
“As I’ve gotten older, I have a real recognition of my mom’s strength and how she has continued to want to be independent,” Mangrum says. “That’s what I want—to make sure the work I do allows kids to be the best version of themselves. To help these kids be successful and independent.”
When did you come to MCPS and what were you hired to do?
I was hired at Strawberry Knoll Elementary School in 2002 as a speech language pathologist. I was there for two years when I interviewed for a position in the Infants and Toddlers Program. I immediately knew I wanted to be in early intervention. I wanted to work with families in their homes and I knew the benefits of that. Early intervention is everything.
I worked as a speech language pathologist for Infants and Toddlers for nine years. Then, I became the program support specialist for Infants and Toddlers, which is sort of equivalent to being an instructional specialist.
Did you always want to be in this line of work?
I’ve always wanted to be a helper. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lawyer. In order to help people in law, you had to believe what they were telling you. I wasn’t sure I could always believe what people told me, so I knew that was not the right path.
When I was in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at Howard, you could specialize in different things—school age children, adult care or early intervention. I did a lot of babysitting as a teenager; I always loved young children. Even now when I go to an adult party, I tend to be the person in the corner playing with the children. It’s very natural for me.
Tell me about the Infants and Toddlers Program. How do you help children and families?
We serve more than 500 children and families each year. We empower families to teach their children. You know that old saying that parents are their child’s first teacher? That is the heart of our program. We have skills that we were taught, but we are only coming in a child’s home for an hour, maybe two hours a week. As the parent or childcare provider, they’re with the child the majority of the time. We’re able to teach them so they can use these skills when we’re not there. We are there to support them and to make sure they are able to advocate for their children. We serve families from birth to the beginning of the school year following a child’s fourth birthday.
Most of our referrals come through parents, but they also come in through pediatricians and hospitals. The [Montgomery County] Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is our lead agency. Our [clients] come in through HHS.
For instance, if a child is born with Down Syndrome or born premature, one of the things a hospital will do before discharging them is to refer them to us. Sometimes, a child will have a screening during a medical appointment, and the pediatrician will suggest that the child is developmentally not meeting their milestones, and encourage the parent to call us. When they call us, we go out and do a formal evaluation. All of our services are offered in the natural environment, so it’s often in the home. It could also be in a childcare center, at a park or community center.
When we do a formal evaluation, there are three ways a child can be eligible for our services. They can have a 25 percent delay in one of several areas—speech, cognition, fine motor skills, gross motor skills or social emotional skills. They can fall into the automatically disabled category; these are children who are born premature, with some type of genetic issue or have fetal alcohol syndrome. Or they’re in the atypical category, which is found when our diagnosticians see behaviors that other children don’t display. A big area for this is articulation—children not talking that well—or not showing eye contact, not going to their parent for comfort.
We know what the developmental milestones are, and there are red flags from very early on.
The hardest cases for everyone are not knowing. You know the child is not meeting milestones but the doctors can find no actual cause. That’s the majority of cases. That’s hard to hear for families and providers. Recognizing that a child has a disability is a grieving process for parents. Sometimes families never leave the denial stage the whole time they’re in our program. We work to help them in the here and now. We ask what part of their day is difficult, and we work on making that easier.
We deal with everything. We have vision specialists here, we have hearing teachers who are special education instructional teachers; they understand how to teach children to hear sounds when they get a hearing aid or cochlear implant. We have children with social emotional issues and that looks different for each child. Sometimes it’s an attention issue; it can be behavioral; there are children who are not connected to their parents; they’re not interacting.
We’re in discovery mode from the moment we meet a child. We find out what their strengths and what their needs are, and determine how to use their strengths to bring their needs along.
At about 24 months old, we start talking to families about transitioning to what’s going to happen in the next year. If a child needs services after age 3, do they need some exposure to a classroom environment to find out if a particular intervention will work for them? What are the strategies we can put in place so children can succeed?
What do you like best about what you do?
Helping people. One of the things that has been a constant in my job has been helping people learn. As a speech language pathologist, I’ve been able to help a child learn or help their family learn how to help the child learn. One of my challenges is to continually see the value in learning. I feel like I learn something new every day.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Most of my weekends are hanging out with friends and family. I’m one of the main caregivers for my mom. She lives with my sister. We manage her health and go to doctors’ appointments and do things for her on the weekends.
One of the main things my husband John and I do is hang out in downtown Frederick. When we moved there, I never thought I would have loved it so much. It’s a very quaint, hip area. We go dancing sometimes. If I could do anything in the world and get paid for it, I would be a dancer. One of the places I feel the most free is the dance floor. I was a ballet dancer; I went all the way up to pointe and quit.
We have two kids. John is in his sophomore year at Hampton University, studying aviation. My daughter Jazmine is in her freshman year in high school. She’s a competitive cheerleader and track runner. My sister has two beautiful girls.