Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Early Intervention

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.
I learned about it after our little girl was born four months early. But, for all children, I would say knowing about Early Intervention Works for Me!


Calina said...

We didn't participate in Early Intervention, but my daughter did get an itenerant teacher (she came to our home and did preschool activities)once a week. When she finally stablized she spent one year in MR/DD preschool. The classroom had many "normal" kids and several with physical or social issues. The staff was awesome! However, after reaching preschool "graduation" time. I was sadly disappointed how they expect a "different" child to suddenly become "normal" and go right into a kindergarten classroom with at least 20 kids to one teacher and one class aide.

I totally agree with being your child's advocate. We decided that public school was not for us and I have been happily homeschooling the past two years!

*BTW, I agree it does help to learn everything you can from the speech therapist, o.t., and any other source you can get information from!

Ryann said...

We just were able to "graduate" from the physical therapy through first steps. YEAH!

Angie said...

I totally agree about Early Intervention. All of my kids were in Early Intervention. Two of them went on to receiving services later through the school system, and one of them caught up and was discharged before she was three.

I'm glad that you have already met and like your new therapists. That is *so* helpful!

And, I'll pretend that I didn't feel bad to read that you didn't want a Developmental Therapist. ;) (Says that gal that is a developmental therapist) Seriously though -- I feel like I am very qualified (I have a bachelors and a masters, plus experience in a school setting prior to becoming a DT), but I agree -- I think that there are *definitely* times that they send out DTs when they really need to send out an OT, PT, or Speech Therapist. And, in that case, I always try to push for further evaluation for the child. But, I know that not all DTs are like that.

Okay, sorry -- defensive, much? LOL ;)

Seriously though -- congrats on getting through First Steps, and best of luck as she moves on to school-based services. With my kids, we were always excited when we got to that point, but a little (or a lot) nervous too. It's normal to feel both ways.

JessieLeigh said...

Calina- so glad you were able to make a choice that best fits your family. It's essential that we do what works best for our individual children!

Ryann- Congrats to Addy... what a great milestone!

Angie- I probably should have clarified more about the developmental therapist situation. We DID have a DT originally with our daughter and she was a simply lovely woman who was a former kindergarten teacher. But she simply didn't have the training necessary to deal with specific swallowing issues our little girl was facing. I think there are settings where developmental therapists can be a great fit; I just knew we were dealing with a specialized case. Thanks for the good luck wishes! I am confident C. will do just great-- she has proven herself to be tough and adaptable in the past. :)

Wani said...

My 20mos old son is in First Steps now. What a blessing that organization is! He is getting all the services that FS offers. We see four different therapists for five dif therapy appointments a week. We love the therapists that we have now. I am so thankful for the help they are to us and the progress that we've seen since working with them.

Finding Normal said...

We're heavily involved in First Steps. Our evaluation was the first time I ever heard anyone say anything positive about my daughter and her prognosis after spending 5 months inpatient and dealing with probably 50 doctors, residents, and fellows. I cried. And they understood. I love our therapists, and will be definitely giving them some homemade candy! :)