“It takes a parent to raise a child, but it takes a community to support that parent.”
Dr. Dana Suskind, the founder and co-director of the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health and a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon, shared this thought on Nov. 1 at the kickoff event for Elkhart County’s Early Childhood Initiative, Building Strong Brains. What she said is true. None of us are alone, but not all of us know the supports that are available in our community.
Early intervention — addressing developmental delays before kindergarten — is critical to a child’s future. According to the company that produces one of the top screening tools, Ages + Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), intervention before kindergarten has huge academic, social and economic benefits. Studies have shown that children who receive early treatment for developmental delays are more likely to graduate from high school, hold jobs, live independently, and avoid teen pregnancy, delinquency and violent crime. That’s what we all want for our children, right?
Early intervention screenings don’t look for whether children know their colors, numbers, or letters, said Deb Tipton, a school psychologist for the Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative. They identify potential delays in a child’s speech and language, cognitive ability, fine and gross motor skills, age-appropriate independence skills, and social-emotional development.
It can be difficult to know if your child is not reaching his or her developmental milestones, but there is help.
First, talk with your child’s doctor during pediatric visits. Doctors, especially pediatricians, are aware of developmental milestones during the ages of 0-5. If you have a concern, it’s best to ask your doctor.
You can also find out the developmental milestones yourself. The Centers for Disease Control has them listed here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html, but Tipton likes the way Pampers shares the information. At https://www.pampers.com/en-us/development-milestones, parents can find not only the milestones for each age, but they can learn why children do the things that they do and how to can nurture them for the best start in life.
Your child care provider may also be a great resource to know if your child is developing normally or experiencing delays. When children enter a social setting outside their home, they may begin to display behaviors — especially social-emotional behaviors — that you may not see at home. Many child care providers have experience with spotting the signs of developmental delays and even use screening tools like the ASQ. They can work with you and your child to find resources.
So what are those resources? We have plenty nearby, and the good news is that most are available at low to no cost.
• First Steps: First Steps works with the youngest of children, newborn up to the day before their third birthday. This state service provides developmental evaluations at no cost to families who have a concern for their child’s development. Anyone is welcome to make a referral to First Steps. They accept referrals from doctors, child care providers, community agencies, and parents or caregivers themselves. Parents are welcome to call them directly at 1 (866) 725-2398 or go online to https://indianafirststeps.org/ to make a referral. If children are still in need of services when they turn three, First Steps is there to help families make the transition.
• Northeast Indiana Special Education Cooperative: NEISEC is the largest special education cooperative in Indiana, covering 13 school districts in this area. The screenings and services they provide begin when a child turns three. Parents of children age 3-5 can contact NEISEC directly. NEISEC has an “intake” process when you think your child might need intervention services, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. Parents can call 1-800-589-5236 and talk to NEISEC office administrator Elaine, who will work with them to schedule an appointment for the parent and child to come in. During that meeting, the staff will run through some basic questions with the parents about what they are seeing in their child that is causing concern. From there, they can evaluate children to see if they would qualify for services.
• Early Headstart and Headstart: Head Start provides comprehensive educational, health, nutritional, and other developmental social services to low-income and special needs preschool children and their families. The programs through Brightpoint serve Noble and DeKalb counties, and there are local programs available. Brightpoint can be reached at (260) 423-3546 or online at https://mybrightpoint.org/index.php/get-help/children-youth/head-start/.
• Local School Systems: Your local school system also likely has the tools necessary to help children who may be falling behind. East Noble, for instance, uses the iSprout assessment tool provided by the Indiana Department of Education. It measures progress in much the same way as the ASQ, by tracking social/emotional wellness, knowledge and skills, and independence/motor coordination development.
All of these services are available right here, and they work together to provide supports for parents so children can get the best start in life. A child who doesn’t get early intervention services but needs them could demonstrate behavior issues, have difficulty making friends, or is unable to express his or her needs. Children who do receive the support they need are often much more confident. Developmental delays that are addressed early can be treated through Occupational, Physical, or Speech Therapy. Often, children can be brought up to speed developmentally before they enter school and they won’t need ongoing therapy.
We all want the best for our children, right? The good news is that we don’t have to work alone. We have wonderful supports right here in our community. Let’s use them to make sure our kids excel in life.