Guest Blog Posts by Cecilia Lee and by Debbie Miller
Alex sang an aria in Italian recently in front of 600 people. He had a really nice introduction by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education. A lot of people think he is a superstar. He has modeled for a toy company, done some TV work, has his own poster and appeared on the big screen in Times Square 8 times. He just turned 9. I often wonder if he would still be able to do all that he does if he didn’t have early intervention services pretty much as soon as he was born.
Alex was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth. I, like many other new parents, didn’t know what to expect. I was informed of lots of struggles and obstacles that would come our way. I felt as if my family’s life was thrown into the land of doom. Then came early intervention! Our early intervention therapists started coming over to our house. Immediately, they started telling us all the things that Alex was capable of doing; and more importantly different strategies to try so that he COULD do those things he wasn’t yet doing. They were the bright ray of sunshine that came to chase away the dark cloud that I thought was hanging over us. Each week, they came over and worked with all of us to make everything possible. They always made sure that Alex’s sister, Isabelle, was part of the session. Now at age 11, she is the queen of modifications! Many of us know that over 90% of the brain development happens before the kids turn five, so what a great life-changing opportunity this was not only for Alex but also for Isabelle.
One of the struggles we had in the beginning was language development. We live in a bilingual household and when Alex was first diagnosed, many people told us that it’d be better to stick to one language because he would be too confused and have difficulty learning how to communicate. Fortunately, our early intervention therapists told us that we should just do whatever we were doing with our daughter so we continued to communicate in two different languages. Exposure to two different languages increased Alex’s awareness of different sounds and the way the letters/characters looked. He started recognizing sight words in both English and Korean before he turned two. At age 9, he speaks, reads and writes in English and Korean. He is learning Italian because he just loves Mozart operas and Japanese because he’s so into Anime. He loves singing Mozart arias in Italian and Anime theme songs in Japanese.
As I was getting teary-eyed watching Alex sing ‘La Cidarem la Mano’ in Italian in front of such a big crowd, I couldn’t help but think how none of this would’ve been possible without early intervention.
I had always wondered what I would do when I grew up. When I thought about my professional career, I never envisioned myself working with young children with disabilities. However at the age of 42 when the opportunity arose for me to work in this field, my passion found me. For 24 years, I have worked with children from birth through five years of age … And they have taught me so much.
I have worked in Part B special education preschool and Part C early intervention jobs separately and for 13 years simultaneously. I’ve laughed and cried with parents and had both challenging and rewarding home visits. Through it all I’ve seen progress unique to each child and family and felt an overwhelming relief that these wonderful children are receiving the educational and family support necessary to have a happy life and life-long friendships.
People who don’t teach special education always say, “It takes a special person to teach special education.” They are wrong; it is an honor and a privilege to teach young children with disabilities and their families.