Early intervention key for children with disabilities

Early childhood professionals can intervene and give needed expertise and support for young children who have disabilities and delays in developmental skills and their families.

That’s the mission of the team at Marion County Early Intervention Services, which targets children from birth through age 5.

“We not only support the children,” said Shawna Hake, early childhood educator and a family service coordinator. “We also support the families because that will benefit the child.”

In addition to Hake, the team also includes a physical therapist, an occupational therapist and a speech-language pathologist. If needed, an audiologist and vision specialist can give assistance.

Hake and Stacey Parks, who until recently has served on the team as its speech-language pathologist, gave an overview of the county’s early childhood intervention program, which includes developmental screening and services for infant-toddlers and preschool children.

Developmental screening

Parents can have their children ages birth to 5 screened for a range of developmental skills.

“This team holds monthly screenings in different parts of the county to try and accommodate as many communities as possible,” said Parks, who is transitioning to a different role at Marion County Special Education Cooperative for the upcoming year.

At the screenings, children are checked for the areas of physical development, speech and language development, cognitive abilities, self-help skills, social-emotional skills, hearing and vision.

“It usually takes about an hour to go through screening,” Hake said. “It depends on the child and how many people we have signed up because we set up different stations.”

The screenings are available to all children at no cost, but they do need to make an appointment.

“Speech is a big one that parents sign their kids up for if they have concerns that their child is not talking as well as they think they should,” Hake said. “Also motor-wise, if they think their child maybe should be starting to crawl or sit up on their own.”

Parks said she would recommend that all parents have their children screened.

“Many times doctors’ offices do something similar,” she said. “This is something that can look at all the different areas in one day, in one time frame.”

Some parents are surprised at the amount of information gathered by the screenings.

“Even just the hearing and vision part,” Parks said. “Kids don’t have to say anything for me to be able to screen their hearing, but I think it’s amazing what Susan (Lerva-Wallace) does as far as vision screening and how young she can do vision screening with those kids.”

Lerva-Wallace teaches the visually impaired students at MCSEC.

If the screening flags a concern in one or more of the areas, children are referred for further evaluation, Hake said.

Initially, Park said, some parents may feel that by qualifying for services that something is wrong with their child that needs to be fixed.

“But we do so much through play and through their daily typical routines that really it’s more of an opportunity,” she said. “I see it more on the speech-language side. As you build language, you build a relationship. There are opportunities that open up as well.”

Families and professionals work together to design a program with appropriate services and activities for the child and the family.

Infant-Toddler services

For birth to age 3, Hake said a family service coordinator will assist the family in obtaining needed services and resources, and a primary provider is assigned to make visits to the home.

Sometimes arranging those visits can be challenging, she said, because she has to work with parents’ schedules.

Hake said service providers for infant-toddlers use a coaching model that involves assigning one primary provider to a family.

“That way they don’t have multiple people coming through their door,” Parks said.

But the primary provider consults with the intervention team to get ideas or receive help that might be needed, she said.

“Then we can take that back to the family,” Parks added.

For the upcoming year, the early intervention team for Infant-Toddler includes Hake, as the early childhood special education teacher, physical therapist Leann Funk, occupational therapist Teresa Moritz, and speech-language pathologist Carolyn McIlwain.

Lori SooHoo will take on the role of the Infant-Todder grant coordinator.

“Once a child is receiving Early Intervention Services, as they approach age 3 they go through what’s called a transition evaluation,” Parks said. “They have the opportunity for that.

“But as part of that evaluation, we also do provide information if they qualify for additional services and preschool options—what resources are available when they turn age 3,” she added. “We try to help families through that as well.”

Preschool services

Early intervention services for preschool-aged children can involve a combination of working with the child and family in the home and in a preschool setting.

“For ages 3- to 5, it is special ed, so they do have to qualify for those services through an evaluation,” Hake said. “It’s the whole team that does the evaluation.”

Hake and Linda Peters are the itinerant early childhood special education teachers employed by MCSEC. They serve children ages 3- to 5 years old on an Individual Education Program (IEP) in preschools throughout Marion County.

Both Hake and Parks agree about the value of getting out the information about Marion County Early Intervention Services.

Said Hake: “We just want them to know that this service is out there, because we still have people that we may finally get a referral for and call them up, and they say, ‘I never knew this existed.’”

For more information, call 620-382-2858.

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