Early intervention is an important buzzword in the pediatric community, but new parents aren’t always clear how therapy can benefit a child during the early years.
What is early intervention? It’s a system of services that help babies and toddlers born with developmental delays or learning disabilities become stronger. Tennessee Early Intervention Services (TEIS) is the state agency that links families to therapy services while also equipping parents to serve as coaches for their children at home. TEIS serves children up to their third birthday. Receiving an evaluation and therapy during the early years can help rewire the developing brain, enabling a child to become more fully functioning.
“The earlier you work on developmental milestones and getting children caught up and closer to where they need to be, the better,” notes Cyndi Griffin, director of children’s services with Shelby Residential & Vocational Services (SRVS).
For Southaven mom Cassidy Todd, paying close attention to her daughter Carol Ann’s physical skills resulted in getting her the treatment she needed.
Todd began to notice Carol Ann’s speech wasn’t keeping up with the banter and expanding vocabulary of her toddler playmates. She also had difficulty grasping a crayon when coloring. When she turned 2, Todd made an appointment with her pediatricia and further testing resulted in an answer: Carol Ann was autistic.
Following the diagnosis, Todd and her husband, Ricky, who own the Sensory Shop in Southaven, learned about therapy resources available through Mississippi’s early intervention office. The couple began juggling appointments for their daughter, who received speech, occupational, behavioral, and social therapies.
By age 3, Carol Ann was attending a preschool program in DeSoto County public schools for children with developmental delays. The couple also coached their daughter at home, using techniques they learned from her therapists.
Eventually, their hard work paid off.
Now 5, Carol Ann continues behavioral therapy, but all signs point to her attending a typical kindergarten classroom next fall. “Her expressive speech is above average, and she reads at an advanced level for her age. At 2, she understood us but wouldn’t or couldn’t verbalize. Therapists call her a poster child for early intervention,” says Todd.
What is a developmental delay?
Observe your child closely. If she is significantly behind other children her age in one of five major skill areas, she may have a delay: Motor skills (crawling, walking, using hands to play); communication (babbling, indicating wants and needs, talking); cognitive skills (choice-making, problem-solving); social (making eye contact, following things visually, playing near other children or adults); and adaptive skills.
If you think your child is not developing properly in one of these areas, get her evaluated. Children whose test results show they have a 25 percent delay in two developmental areas or a 40 percent delay in one area may be eligible for TEIS. Information from your child’s doctor, as well as the results of a developmental test, will determine eligibility. Your pediatrician can point you to groups like SRVS that do evaluations.
SRVS Kids & Families provides children (ages birth to 3) early intervention services. Their Early On program offers a free, family-centered group that gives parents with children up to 24-months the opportunity to build community and work with pediatric therapy professionals in a small group setting. They meet every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Parents learn teaching and therapy techniques to apply at home. (Pregnant women who have received a prenatal diagnosis may also participate.) SRVS also operates Play Do Learn, an inclusive preschool for typical and special needs children.
Mom Shontie Brown has found valuable support at Early On. She has four typical daughters, but her fifth daughter was born with Down syndrome, a diagnosis that was unexpected. Once her daughter was enrolled with TEIS, the agency sent a developmental therapist to their home and taught shared activities the family could incorporate into their daily lives. Now, older siblings encourage 10-month-old Makayla to clap and roll a ball. With physical and occupational therapy, she is making progress.
When Collierville mom Robin Stevens’ son Cricket was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and blindness, “It felt like a giant hole had opened up.” When her doctor couldn’t refer her to a parent support group, Stevens started her own. Stevens is the director of the Regional Intervention Program (RIP), where parents whose children have behavioral issues can receive help. She has learned the importance of being an advocate for your child. If you see concerns, she says, speak with your pediatrician.
“Remember, all you need is a referral,” says Stevens. “Without it, you miss the window to get those services.”