OSERS launched the new IDEA website in June 2017 in order to provide updated department information regarding the IDEA to the public including students, parents/families, educators, service providers, grantees, researchers and advocates.
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!
Eight years ago, our tiny bundle of joy Neo Lewis, arrived at 26.5 gestational weeks. He was immediately diagnosed with significant hearing loss, and within months, eye cancer which claimed most of his vision. Before leaving the hospital from his extended stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, we were told that we would be contacted by someone within the District of Columbia’s early intervention team, but had not yet grasped what that meant. We only knew that we were suddenly thrust into a new world, as a family with a child with special developmental needs, and ongoing health issues.
Within a few weeks, we received a phone call from our D.C. early intervention specialist. She visited our home, patiently outlined the benefits of early intervening strategies, explained services that were available for our son, and connected us to the appropriate service providers. In the days to come, we were assigned therapists and specialists—most of whom provided services within our home. In the ensuing months, our little bundle flourished as he received needed therapies that contributed to his achieving and surpassing age-adjusted milestones. Through those early years, we felt that we were part of a team that enabled us to navigate the labyrinth of services, and connect us to a network of organizations and other families.
Now a second-grader, our son is flourishing at school and in life. He loves giving high-fives to his teachers when he correctly answers questions, and playing with friends on the playground. At home, he enjoys riding his bike, dancing to music, or curling up with a favorite book. We feel very fortunate that our son and our family were able to benefit, from engagement with early childhood intervention.
While working for the North Carolina Infant Toddler Program I have had many opportunities to work with individuals with disabilities and their families. On a daily basis I evaluate, plan and implement assessment tools and strategies to help children achieve the best possible day to day routines and outcomes. I chose the field of early intervention because my family is a living example of the positive impacts early intervention can have on a child and their family.
My older brother, Brandon, was born at 26 weeks gestational age and weighed 2lbs 4oz. The doctors told my family he would probably never walk on his own and would have limited learning abilities. With the support of early intervention, he was able to overcome those challenges early on. Before starting school he was running around effortlessly and demonstrating many early literacy concepts. Brandon has continued to impress and surprise us year after year. He will turn 31 this October and has graduated college, gotten married and has a successful career in aviation. There is no doubt in my mind that early intervention played a vital role in my brother’s success story.
I work in early intervention to support children and families similar to my own so that each of them can have their own success story. I enjoy advocating for and helping families navigate the unfamiliar territory of early intervention and having a child with a developmental delay or disability. Birth through three is an important age for a child’s growth and development so the earlier we start helping young children and their families, the better the outcome!
When asked to tell a Part C story, I immediately thought it needed to be a story in which I have been an active participant, but more importantly it needed to be framed as a collective response.
I have had the experience of working with early intervention services in Massachusetts prior to P.L. 99‑457, and the journey has never been dull! While, Massachusetts had a well-articulated early intervention system prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) legislation, its passage and ultimate creation of a system of care without waiting lists created unique opportunities for very young children and their families.
Reflecting over time, it is humbling to acknowledge the numerous parties that have continuously moved this system forward. This includes the Office of Special Education Programs, governors, legislative supporters, public health commissioners, budget staff, provider organizations, the pediatric medical community, health plans, higher education, state Part C staff, and most importantly the voices of families. Without the combined commitment of these individuals and organizations it is highly doubtful that the current system in Massachusetts, in its scope and scale, would exist.
As we know from research and grandmotherly wisdom, it’s all about relationships. With young children and their families, and all those mentioned above, the journey of Part C has been about a collective vision of inclusion, positive developmental outcomes for young children and a commitment to full participation of families in the development of policies of how services are delivered.
I am pleased to have been a part of this evolution and salute all those whose commitment and voices have continuously moved this system forward. It has not always been easy but it reflects a system that has tried to always keep the eye on the prize, assisting families in caring for their children and allowing all to have dreams of a brighter future. If we continue to share an inclusive vision with our other Early Childhood partners and act in the best interests of families, we can continue building a comprehensive, broad based system of early education and care.
In closing, I will paraphrase a Beatles lyric and simply say it’s been fun, challenging, exhilarating, and extremely meaningful to be on “the long and winding road” with families, sharing in their lives.
Thanks to early intervention, I have flourished in ways I never could have imagined or thought possible. I was diagnosed at 10 days old with a profound hearing loss and my parents felt lost about how they were going to raise me. Early intervention stepped in and provided them with the assistance, knowledge, and resources they needed to help me grow and succeed. Although I do not remember those days, I relive those moments through my family’s memories. The resources early intervention provided my parents gave them a map for our family, but they still had to choose which path was best for me. They chose the path less traveled, and it led to places I’m sure they never imagined for their baby.
Without early intervention, I may have not had all of the opportunities I was fortunate to have growing up. A huge part of my success comes from the aid my parents received when I was a baby. Early intervention taught my parents and my brother how to help me grow and learn. In addition to all of the support my family received, the staff also worked with me by coming to my house and helping me improve my developmental skills until the age of 3. After early intervention, I went to Clarke School in Northampton, Mass., for 10 years then transitioned to a public high school. From there I went on to college and graduated with a biomedical engineering degree. I now work for a medial orthopedic company designing customized knee replacements.
Another huge benefit that we all received from the early intervention program was the Part C early intervention also provided my family incredible access to support groups that we were able to join. The journey certainly was not an easy one but being able to relate with other parents who were going through the same challenges made things seem a little easier along the way for my parents. I just want to thank the program for not only leading me onto the best path I could have ever imagined, but for also assisting my family along the way as well. They would have never known where to start in helping me grow into the person I am today. In turn, I have been able to pay it forward and help improve the lives of others.
Thank you early intervention for the amazing support and resources you provide families like mine every single day!
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.