Early Intervention—A Parent’s Perspective

In honor and recognition of Early Intervention Month, I wanted to get a parental perspective on the impact of early intervention services. William is two years old and currently receives services from the Infant and Toddler Connection (ITC) of Shenandoah Valley.   Laurel Gilliom, William’s mom who is also a special education teacher was kind enough to share her thoughts and impressions.

Talk to us about your son William. When did William start receiving services from The Infant and Toddler Connection of Shenandoah Valley? 

William turned 2 in March and he’s the coolest kid on the planet. We were initially referred to ITC by our pediatrician when he was right about 15 months after it became evident that he was not meeting developmental milestones. I had never even heard of the Infant and Toddler Connections program and had absolutely no idea what to expect. I called them and was able to get William an appt for an initial evaluation at our home within 2 weeks of calling. We were told that same day that he was eligible for Early Intervention and within a few weeks all of his plans and goals were set and his services were underway.

What specifically did you notice about William’s development that prompted you to seek early intervention services?

William wasn’t meeting typical developmental milestones beginning at 12 months. We gave it a little bit of time but at 15 months he still wasn’t pointing, waving, or clapping, and although he made a lot of sounds he didn’t say any words at all. His case was unique in that for every area of delay he also had areas of strength, so determining his specific needs was difficult. He barely made any eye contact and only responded to his name about 20% of the time. Although he was walking independently by 12 months, by 15 months he was still extremely unbalanced and often fell when he was just standing still-however he could run down a hill or up/over small obstacles without missing a beat.  The combined delays and abnormal gait worried William’s physicians and therapists beginning with his hearing and vision,  eventually turning to concerns with neurologic or genetic disorders.

Can you describe the EI services that William receives?

Before his autism diagnosis, William received therapy through ITC with the developmental specialist 1xweek, OT 2xmonth, and PT once a month. Currently, William receives ABA Therapy 2xweek through Grafton, however that time will increase during summer. We’re still on monthly monitor with his Developmental Specialist as well as consult with his case manager through Infant & Toddler Connection. All of William’s therapists worked with him at both daycare and at home. He also currently receives intensive OT and Speech services at Skyclimb once a week.

How do the early intervention staff partner with you to promote William’s health emotional, social and physical development?

The staff at ITC worked with our family from the very beginning, making sure we were in the loop about everything every step of the way, and we formed #teamwilliam.  They were flexible and accommodating to both William’s needs and our needs as a family. Every single decision towards William’s goals and services were made as a team and our feelings, thoughts, and concerns were always considered and validated.

It is sometimes frightening for new parents to seek out professional help for their child. What would you share with parents about the Infant and Toddler Connection of Shenandoah Valley? What would parents need to be mindful of or observing with their child before contacting ITC?

Our journey to this point has most definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions- from frightening and confusing, to frustrating and heartbreaking, to overwhelming…sometimes all at once. I would just tell parents to follow the milestones guidelines and trust their gut instincts when it comes to their child. Don’t jump into a panic at the first sign of a delay but don’t run away or brush it off either.

It was apparent from our very first meeting that every one of their therapists knew exactly what they were doing and I was confident he was in the best hands possible. They worked with William during his sessions, but also provided me with guidance and feedback throughout each visit, along with recommendations for us to work on to help promote growth in all areas of development. The staff made us feel so comfortable and important- there are so many times when you’re at appointments and you feel like just “another patient” or “client” and there’s no personal connection or feeling or importance. Every one of William’s therapists at ITC immediately and continually made us feel like we were a priority and it was always obvious how much they cared about William’s success and achievement. I can’t say enough for how wonderful these ladies are.

Can you compare and contrast how William was functioning before he received services and how he is doing now?

Night and Day. When we started services through ITC, he was significantly developmentally delayed in all areas. Although he still has delays and weaknesses, he has made phenomenal progress through the therapy he received with ITC and continuing with the ABA therapy he currently receives through the wonderful therapists at Grafton.  William can identify and name all of the letters in the alphabet, all his colors and shapes, animals and their correlating “sounds,” counts to 20 and speaks in up to 3-word phrases. He is starting to be able to verbalize his wants/needs and follow commands. His eye contact has significantly improved and he is more much aware of his body and is making connections. Every single one of his therapists, as well as his physicians from the Kennedy Krieger Institute at John Hopkins, are thrilled with his progress.

We attribute the majority of William’s successes to the services he received and the guidance provided to our family from the Early Intervention Specialists at ITC and Grafton.

Is there anything else that you would like to share?

If I could change one thing about the way we handled our situation, it would be to not initially tell our friends about our concerns with William’s development. I know that sounds crazy because it would seem as though having the support of your close friends and family would be beneficial, and for some people it still may be. It was only with good intentions that our friends would often ask “How is William doing? Is he talking yet? Is he clapping yet? Is he making any progress? Do you have any answers?   Every time I had to answer a question with “No, no, no” it broke my heart a little more. Everyone wanted to give advice or their personal opinion but none of them had any experience with what we were going through and couldn’t relate.   For this reason, we stopped telling people and asked the people who did know to not discuss it with anyone. I was able to find other moms with similar stories, strangers even, who could share their thoughts and advice with me from their own experiences with their children- THAT was (and still is) helpful.

Now that we actually DO have some answers and William IS making significant progress, I feel pride and joy in sharing the story of our journey to close friends and family (and to complete strangers should they want to know)!