During a baby's first few years, tracking developmental milestones are so very important. While every baby develops at their own rate, there are milestone charts that parents can follow to gage their baby's overall development. At well-baby visits, doctors look for indications of growth and development to make their determinations on how a baby is progressing. They measure height and weight. They ask if the baby is smiling, recognizing people, rolling over, walking, etc.
If the doctor detects a significant developmental delay or a baby is at risk of being delayed, the doctor will refer families to an early intervention program. Some delays caught early on can be corrected with short-term therapy. Others may signal a long-term disability.
"The earlier we can get in to support the child and the family, the sooner we can help the child make those important connections in the brain," says Child & Family Connections Program Manager Lori Orr. The CFC's early intervention program, just one of the PACT, Inc programs for people with disabilities, is there to support the whole family with children up to 36 months old. If you live in DuPage County, your child is under 3 years old, and you have a concern about their development, the CFC will conduct an evaluation. In order to be eligible for services, the child has to demonstrate at least a 30 percent delay in one or more areas. Standardized tests are used to make that determination. If you live outside of DuPage County, simply check with your local county early intervention program. Anyone, not just a doctor, can request a free screening.
Once you become eligible for services, the CFC begins assessing your family's particular needs.
"We work with the whole family to create a partnership," says Orr. "Together we review concerns, assess social and emotional needs, and discuss home environments. Home environment can be very important. For instance, if a child has a sensory issue he/she may be too overstimulated to focus on age-appropriate tasks."
The CFC works with the family to identify developmental issues, provide education, and recommend the appropriate services. If needed there are a host of professional specialists at their disposal ranging from speech and physical therapy to nutrition assistance, and much more. Because the parent/child relationship is so tender at this stage, CFC staff work side-by-side with parents so they can continue the therapy and learn how to help their child on a daily basis.
Families are dealing with so much in those early years. When compounded with a child with special needs, parents need to recognize that, while they are trying to adjust to being responsible for a little one who may need more attention than they were anticipating, they are also dealing with their own emotional well-being. It can be overwhelming.
Orr shares a story about one mom who knew her child would be born with some health issues. In preparing her other children, she assured them that they would each be able to bottle-feed their newest sibling in hopes of fostering that special bond. When the doctors told mom that, among other concerns, the baby would not be able to bottle-feed, it became a focal point in her emotional state.
The CFC staff understood that she needed to somehow overcome that one obstacle before she would be ready to tackle anything else. So they focused on the bottle-feeding and sibling bonding first.
"We start where the family is ready to start," Orr says. "We try to give them what they need at that moment. When they are ready for the next step, we are there ready to assist them."
Another unique connection that the CFC offers is a parent liaison. These staff members are parents who have actually been clients and received the early intervention services. They provide an insight that only a parent can share with another parent. They understand the emotional swings that a parent goes through during this process. Parent liaisons are at a family's disposal to answer questions or just to listen.
Whether you are an experienced parent or a first time one, if you or your doctor suspect a delay in your child's development, the Child & Family Connection is a resource that can make a tremendous difference in the start of your baby's life. "The earlier the intervention, the better for the entire family," Orr says.
The Child & Family Connection program serves almost 2,500 children annually in DuPage County. It is just one of the programs that PACT, Inc. has to support people with disabilities at various stages of life and with a variety of services. You can learn more at pactinc.net or by calling (630) 960-9700 or (800) 637-7181.
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• Sherry Manschot is the marketing/public relations manager at Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. She leads a parent network of special needs families at WDSRA. Manschot can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about WDSRA can be found at wdsra.com.