May 24, 2011

Educating Alex - Early Intervention - zero to three

In the olden days, (a mere 16 years ago) before massive budget cuts in our public school system, kids with special needs were eligible for services as soon as they were born. The key to that, however, was having a diagnosis. Since Alex had a diagnosis of down syndrome we were free to participate.

Some kids, particularly, those with autism, do not benefit from an early diagnosis and are not eligible for the services that can make such a positive impact on a child's future. Once again, I know, we were lucky.

I believe that early services, or commonly called, early intervention, are mandatory for all children with special needs. There are countless stories, and studies, proving this. I have seen and heard of children that were born in the forties and fifties who were either institutionalized (as that was the common advice preached by the medical community) or kept in seclusion in their homes. We can compare these babies, as adults, to those children that were brought home from the hospital, educated and received early intervention - mostly by their parents and siblings. This life style guaranteed their successes, and many of these disabled adults are active members of our communities today. We owe a lot to those parents who paved these roads for us.

Our school district had a program called PIE. I cannot remember the real name and it is no longer is existence. In this program, other moms with kids with special needs, between the ages of six months and three, met once a week in a classroom and had our version of a play group. This included speech, occupational and physical therapists, as well as an early childhood educator.

Once is certainly not enough time to provide all the necessary services, but as a foundation this was great. The moms were able to share information and support - a very important thing to a parent with a baby with disabilities. We were able to get thoughts and ideas on our children's strengths and weaknesses from professionals. I knew very early on that we did not need to concentrate on Alex's muscle tone - her strength would come - but we did need to focus on her speech.

To that end we worked with a private speech therapist - at that time it was covered by insurance - and learned to sign. Signing was a miracle, as it turns out. Children with down syndrome do form language in their minds, but have difficulty transferring this to understandable sounds. Speech is very delayed.

The theory behind signing is kids will gain confidence when they learn that their families can understand their needs. This will help language come faster. Alex was able to make simple signs, "more", "play", "drink" at eleven months. We were able to communicate and it was gratifying for all of us. She spoke her first words at 15 months and her real sentences came at three. Speech is still a huge issue for us. We are certainly able to understand Alex and she does speak in full sentences - but without constant reinforcement she regresses. This has been a huge challenge for us in the school system - and will surely come up in later entries.

I am thankful we were able to participate in an early intervention program provided by our public school system. I know that is not a reality for everyone and it should be. I know there are parents fighting, myself included, everyday with insurance companies and school districts to get services that will help their children. That is our responsibility as parents and it shouldn't be so hard.

To me, it make sense to prepare our special children for the world, as soon as possible, so they can be active and contributing members of society, after all we do that for "normal" kids.

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