Childhood is marked by milestones. Parents anticipate the next step for their baby, whether that means sitting up, crawling, getting a tooth, or saying his first word. With my first two children, milestones were pretty easy to track – and achieve. Evan took his own sweet time about walking, but he crawled like lightning. And Corrie spent her first year trying as hard as possible to catch up with her older brother. She sat up, crawled, stood up and walked at the early end of the spectrum.
My youngest son is a different story. Ben was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome, and one of the significant characteristics is low muscle tone. That meant that it would take Ben longer to meet physical milestones – developing the core strength to hold up his head, to push himself to a sit, and even to form words with weaker cheek and tongue muscles.
Fortunately, Ben has received excellent therapy and support from our local Early Intervention program. The federal government created this program to provide needed therapy for babies, toddlers and children under 3 years old. ANYONE can qualify, regardless of income, language or disability. If a child is not meeting milestones – whether there is an actual medical diagnosis or not – parents can request a FREE assessment and evaluation to determine if the little one would benefit from therapy and other free or low cost services.
There are two Early Intervention providers in the Rio Grande Valley: Region One Education Service Center and Easter Seals. Region One provides services in Edinburg, mid-Valley and other areas. Easter Seals provides services for McAllen, Mission, Rio Grande City and more.
When Ben first started therapy, I was nervous! I wasn’t sure what to expect. Since we live in Edinburg, all of Ben’s Early Intervention therapies and case management has been provided by Region One. Thankfully, every staff person that we have met (and we have met A LOT) has been pleasant and helpful. These women have become part of Ben’s TEAM. They enjoy him, they cheer for him, and they help me to be the best mom for him that I can be.
The case managers and therapists are good listeners, and they often have creative suggestions for ways to help him learn. For example, his occupational therapist recently brought over several oranges and a juicer, so that Ben could practice squeezing (building strength in his hands) – plus he got the immediate reward of drinking the orange juice. He loved it! And it’s an exercise that I can easily repeat with him on my own.
Therapists come to our house or meet us at a park, so it is very convenient for our family. Services can also happen at daycare or preschool. They are great about including my other kids, if Ben and Corrie happen to be home during the visit. Ben’s siblings love to help – whether it’s kicking a soccer ball or rewarding Ben with goldfish when he crawls across the living room.
If you have any concerns about your child’s development – whether it’s speech, physical, feeding, whatever! – please reach out to Easter Seals or Region One. Research has shown that the earlier children receive support services, the better they do.
For more general information about Early Intervention, check out this link from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.
Easter Seals can be reached at (956) 631-9171.
Region One has information online. The number for Cameron County is (956) 504-9422, and Hidalgo County is (956) 984-6131.
You can also ask your pediatrician for a referral.