This morning I will meet with our First Steps coordinator for the last time. We have a "case closing meeting" and it's a great milestone!
First Steps is the name of our Early Intervention program here in Indiana. Different states use different names ("Birth to Three" seems to be common), but it's all the same idea. It is a program designed to ensure that children between the ages of 0 and 3 receive any therapy interventions they may need to help them succeed and reach their highest potential.
My little C. turns 3 on Christmas Eve and, as a result, she will be receiving her therapies (speech and occupational therapy) through the school system from here on out. I've already met her new therapists and they're lovely. I'm excited about this next step. But I'll be forever grateful to First Steps.
Early Intervention worked for us in so many ways.
First of all, it was so helpful to have a team of experts come out and evaluate our child and let us know how she was doing. So much more relevant than trying to compare her to charts in those "What to Expect..." books. We were given a summary that broke everything down so we could see very specific skills that would be emerging soon and areas where she could use a little help.
Secondly, once a plan was in place, our therapists came to our home. Since I had given birth to two babies in less than a year, this was a huge help to me. I didn't have to schlep two babies, an oxygen tank, an apnea monitor, and feeding gear all over the place.
Thirdly, because we were already involved with First Steps, our transition into the school system was simple. All of C's paperwork and history was forwarded on, saving us a lot of extra work. Her new therapists have comprehensive reports about her abilities and progress to help them structure a plan that will help her continue to develop and succeed.
I want to encourage other moms of little ones (preemie or not) to educate yourselves about your state's program. Know that you can contact them if you have any concerns. Some things that worried me (like my son not walking until he was 15 months old) turned out to be nothing needing intervention. Some things I may have just written off as an annoyance (my daughter's persistent tongue thrust when we tried to feed her solids) ended up being resolved after a few sessions with an OT. It never hurts to ask.
Here are just a few more reminders to help make the road as smooth as possible:
- Keep your contacts straight- The first person you'll need to get in touch with will have a title like "Intake Coordinator". Then you'll be assigned a "Service Plan Coordinator". There will be an evaluation team. There will be therapists. Make sure you know who you should call with questions.
- Know your rights- I want to be very clear here. I am NOT advocating that you be a demanding, bossy, law-quoting parent. I, personally, do not think that's the greatest way to go about things. But read your packet of information. And don't be afraid to speak up. I made it very clear, in a very polite way, that I wasn't interested in my child working with a "developmental therapist" in place of an occupational therapist (Dev Ther are more plentiful and cheaper to hire in our area). Our First Steps team was very receptive to my reasons and helped me secure an OT within a few weeks.
- Be there when you say you will- Keep your appointments. With the Early Intervention staff and with the therapists. If you can't be there, be sure and call just as soon as you can. This is just common courtesy.
- Try to be your therapists' "partner"- Early Intervention therapists can just as easily meet with your child in a daycare setting as at your home. But if you can be there, that's fabulous. Pay attention. Ask questions. See if your therapist has recommendations for games, activities, or toys that will help expand the skill-set he or she is currently working on.
- And, finally, don't forget these important people at the holidays- I'm not saying you have to buy an expensive gift. You could make an ornament with your child. Bake some yummy cookies. Buy some pretty soaps. Whatever. But, honestly, my kids see their therapists more often than their local aunts, uncles, and cousins. They're a big part of their lives! My son still gets excited when he sees the penguin ornament on our tree given to him by one of our therapists. It's a really meaningful relationship for them. Honor that.