How Early Intervention Programs Give Kids a Head Start
Heather Humphreys is a university academic adviser. In her Logan office, pictures of her four daughters are thumb tacked to a colorful bulletin board above her desk. From the way she talks about them, you can tell they are the brightest part of her world.
In one photograph, a 17-year-old girl with brown hair holds up a picture of a monster she drew. In another, a little girl bares her big white teeth, squints her eyes and smiles for the camera. Heather smiles as she describes their different personalities.
They seem happy and healthy. You can see that in the photos. What you can’t see is that three of the girls are on the autistic spectrum and have faced health problems from a very young age.
“She was 7 months old and she couldn’t sit up, couldn’t roll over, couldn’t, you know…. She was delayed,” Heather said.
When Heather’s second oldest daughter, Megan, was just three months old, she was rushed to the hospital with 11 broken bones. It was so severe that Heather was accused of child abuse, and her daughter was taken away for nearly three months.
Heather was heartbroken and determined to find out what had happened to her little girl. After some tests, doctors discovered that Megan’s body is unable to produce procollagen, the mortar that hold her bones together, leaving them easily broken.
When Megan was 7 months old, she was allowed to return home. It was then that Heather realized Megan needed help.
She wasn’t sure if her daughter wasn’t sitting or rolling over because of her injuries, but Heather did some research and learned about a program for young children with developmental delays. It’s called the Up to 3 program, and it’s near her home in Cache Valley.
“We had to have the physical therapist because she couldn’t move and do what she should be able to do appropriate to her age,” Heather said. “She had to have the occupational therapist, because she would swallow and puke everything back up, she wouldn’t eat. So they had to teach her how to swallow and eat and they taught her how to move. And as she got a little bit older, we had the speech language pathologist because she was three and could say ‘kitty,’ but it didn’t sound like kitty.”
Now, Megan is 17.
“I really think that if we didn’t do any work with Megan, then I am positive she would be further behind,” Heather said. “And Megan actually, by the time she went into first grade, she was released from resource. So she went from extremely developmentally behind to completely caught up and mainstreamed.”
Heather would once again require the skills and training provided through the early intervention program after discovering her youngest daughter, Sammie, also had developmental delays.
“I’m super grateful,” Heather said, “and I really can’t imagine my life without them.”
Marla Nef coordinates Up to 3, where employees work with newborns and children, as the name implies, up to the age of three.
“If you can help a child progress at those ages, they learn a lot faster,” Nef said. “You’ve maybe seen a little one who’s trying to learn to walk and how much they fall, but they get back up and they get back up and they finally catch those skills. Their brains are a lot more pliable at that age up until they’re about eight, but under three is crucial for those skills, especially communication and social interaction.”
Every child is different, Nef explained, so the program’s main goal is to teach parents unique strategies to help their child.
“Say we’re trying to help this little one talk,” Nef said. “And so we’d say okay, this is what we’d do and we’d try a strategy like, every time a child says something you repeat it back to them and add one more word. Or we’re going to model, and then give parents some ideas like, ‘When are you going to use these strategies?’ So if they’re changing their diaper and they’re saying all these kinds of words to them, or if they’re in the tub…”
Watching as therapists worked with her girls, Heather learned what to do when her youngest daughter would throw tantrums and become difficult to manage.
“I’ll never forget the one way we sat in the hallway for 20 minutes with trying to get her stop when we say stop,” she said. “Because she would run away, and she was one mad little girl. But they just were like, ‘It’s okay, so we just say stop and we praise her and love her when it happens.’”
You may recall that Heather has three daughters with developmental delays. Sammie and Megan received early intervention services, but Heather didn’t realize early on that her daughter Tansley would have also qualified for the program.
“Tansley is my one who we missed Up to 3 with and, it’s hard for me with her because she’s in resource more than half of her day in junior high,” Heather said. “And I wonder what would have happened if we would have done more of the therapy earlier on for her.”
It can be scary to ask for help, but Heather recommends all parents who are concerned about their children’s development seek out services in their community that can help combat delays.
“So maybe they have a developmental delay and maybe they don’t, but call and let the people who know help you figure that out because you can’t get back those developmental years that are supercritical,” she said.