Guest Blogs by Madison Essig and Susie Nevin
I was born with Down syndrome. I began receiving early intervention services when I was eight months old. I have low muscle tone, so occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) services were a necessity. OT helped me to learn how to hold a spoon so that I could feed myself and later hold a pencil to write. PT helped me to develop the strength to crawl and sit in a chair and walk. My speech therapist helped me to develop my oral motor skills to prepare me to speak. At the same time, knowing that my speech would be delayed, she taught me and my mother sign language to help me communicate. My mother says that this was essential to my development, as I was capable of so much more than my not talking would indicate. She believes that the first years of a child’s development are critical, so she made sure I accessed every possible early intervention service I was able to. My therapists gave us exercises to do at home, which we did faithfully.
After graduating from early intervention at two years old, I went to a preschool program where I received special education services. My backpack was bigger than I was. My teacher, Ms. Trudy, knew I used sign language, so she and the other teachers supported me by using it at school. I was able to sign colors and animals and please and thank-you and so much more. I was able to start reading in preschool using signs and developed the language basis I needed to succeed later. Ms. Trudy pushed me to do a lot for myself so I could become independent in navigating the school and ready for kindergarten. I continued to receive occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT) and speech therapy services in preschool. My therapists helped me work on things directly related to my school experience, like writing and putting on my coat and learning to pronounce words clearly so that I was understood.
My early intervention services and special education preschool services provided the foundation that enabled me to be fully included in regular education classes throughout elementary school, middle school and high school. I graduated from Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., with a full diploma and a 3.7 GPA. I am now a student at George Mason University in the MasonLife Program and want to pursue a career advocating for people with disabilities. No one knows what a young child will be able to achieve, so they must have every opportunity to reach their full potential.
Happy Birthday, Part C! I’m so glad you were born! In 1986, as this law was being enacted, I was in the 6th grade, completely unaware of how the Part C early intervention program would impact my life. Early intervention became my life’s work, and for that I am humbled, proud and grateful.
I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and received my undergraduate degree in Child Development and Family Studies. I was introduced to early intervention by a group of dedicated faculty members whom I consider to be pioneers in this field. I remained at UIUC and earned my Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education with an emphasis on Infant Education in 1997. I never looked back.
Since then, I have met thousands of families—wonderful caregivers and beautiful infants and toddlers—in my role as a Developmental Therapist. I have listened to their unique stories, smiled proudly as they celebrated victories, and held their hands as they endured setbacks and faced fears. Not a day has passed that I haven’t been grateful for the perspective I gained from every family and every child.
That perspective served me well in 2002, when I gave birth to twin girls, two months premature. Suddenly, I was no longer the helpful professional, but a frightened parent. My family received amazing care as my daughter Lily navigated her way through speech therapy and occupational therapy services. I was so grateful for that care, and I owe much of her success to her experiences in early intervention.
This 30th anniversary of Part C is truly a celebratory occasion!
Susan A. Nevin