Member Spotlight: Heike Rüdenauer

With a background in social pedagogy, special education, and as a trainer for political and multicultural education, Heike Rüdenauer found state service as an opportunity to make a difference in her community by supporting families of children with disabilities to access needed therapies and to establish lasting comprehensive community support systems for themselves. She first started with the state as an early intervention specialist in 2008, providing home-based special education services for children, as well as education and coaching for their families to support their children in their daily life routines. In 2019, Heike joined the State Autism Treatment Assistance Program (ATAP) as a developmental specialist, where she assists families in securing funding for costly developmental programs for children with autism, and in providing resources to connect them with the community at large. 

“Without state programs, many families in Nevada would have no way to obtain the needed support for their children with special needs, especially for very young children and for children with autism,” said Heike.  

 ATAP was created to provide financial aid for needed therapies, and to connect families with programs and financial resources to support the development of children on the autism spectrum.  

Social justice is what motivates Heike to work in this field. Many of the families who receive assistance through ATEP and other state programs are from low-income backgrounds, families of color or immigrant families who are navigating the complex challenges of raising a child with special needs with limited resources.  

“I do this work because so many families with low-income, who are immigrants or from minority groups fall through the cracks, especially when they have children with special needs. I get to empower many of the most vulnerable families in our state that otherwise would have nowhere to go,” said Heike. 

For Heike, her passion for special education continues outside of her job. She serves on the Nevada Early Childhood Advisory Council, as well as policy advocate for the Council for Exceptional Children. She advocates for policies, compliance, and legislation that create systems to better serve families of children with and without special needs. Heike is also currently perusing a PhD at UNLV in special education, through a federal grant that trains practitioners to become leaders in their communities on special education issues.  

Heike has been an AFSCME member for many years and is excited for how newly acquired collective bargaining rights for Nevada state employees can keep public services available to all communities.  

“Being an AFSCME member means we have a voice on the job, so we can keep the flexibility in workplace policies that allow us to really individualize treatment plans and the services we provide to families who deserve us being on our best game.”