For the past two months, I have heard “I don’t know what we would do without Babies Can’t Wait” from almost every mom I spoke with about the early intervention program. Part of my job at ESNG as the communications specialist is to collect success stories from the people we serve. It’s important for our community to know what we do, who we serve, and how well we are doing it.
Recently, I have been meeting with parents who used our early intervention services through Babies Can’t Wait. We administer this program in Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties. Last year, the program served about 1,780 children and their families.
If you are unfamiliar with the program, you’re not alone. In fact, I’m a mother and I had never heard of the program until I joined ESNG. If you believe your child (newborn to three) has a developmental delay, your doctor, social worker, pediatric clinician – really anyone – can refer you to BCW. Upon referral, a service coordinator comes to your house and evaluates your child – at no cost. If the service coordinator believes that your child will benefit from therapy, he/she will set you up with either occupational, speech, ABA, or physical therapy.
These first three years are critical. Neural circuits, which create the foundation for learning, behavior and health, are most flexible or plastic during the first three years of life. Over time, they become increasingly difficult to change.
Here’s the kicker to me. Then, the therapist(s) comes to your house and begins therapy with your child and YOU! My favorite part of ESNG is that all of our programs involve the entire family. Our early education and care program has Family Service Advocates whose main job responsibility is to ensure that families’ needs are met. It may be housing issues, education, or job training. In fact, on more than one occasion, our FSAs have helped homeless families find secure housing.
I digress – back to BCW. This in-house therapy has many benefits, but the most obvious is that although the therapy may be once a week, parents can continue the work with their child the other six days of the week. As Mason’s mom, Tanya, explained to me, “When I started the program, I thought all the weight was going to fall on him. I didn’t realize the family aspect of it. This is really a family effort.”
Almost every parent that I spoke to over the past two months has told me that their child thought of their sessions with therapists as “grown up” play dates. They don’t see this as work. Quite frankly, I don’t think the therapists see this as work either. Every single one of them loves what they do. They clearly love the child they work with and want for them to succeed. Many, in fact, keep in touch with the families even after the child ages out of the program at three years old.
The benefits of this program range from speech therapy giving a two year old the confidence and self-esteem to feel a part of his circle of friends to occupational and speech therapies teaching an autistic toddler how to hold eye contact and express her feelings.
Many of the children will continue therapy even after they age out of the program at three years old. However, the time they have spent in BCW has prepared them well. One of my favorite anecdotes was a three-year-old boy who continued speech therapy through the school system. In the small group therapy, he was the only one who participated because he was familiar with speech therapy and knew what the therapist wanted him to do. Another was a little boy who has learned patience through his speech therapy. At story time at the local library, while the other two-year-olds are running around, Ethan would sit with his mother patiently waiting for the story to begin.
If anyone were to question the benefits of early intervention programs, I would strongly urge them to meet these families. We’re talking about an autistic boy who now has a girlfriend and is proud of his own accomplishments.
I feel like Jackie, whose daughter receives therapy through BCW, said it best:
Without the therapies I would be lost. People always say that if you catch it early, therapy does wonders. We are the prime example of that because as soon as we saw the signs of autism we contacted Babies Can’t Wait. They have given me wonderful tips on how to help her and I have watched her develop at a faster pace than before. I just want to hug the therapists. I know she will live a fulfilled life because of the things she’s learned.
Part of our vision statement is “every family will have access to community resources that will strengthen the family and allow them to achieve self-sufficiency.” I truly believe the early intervention services we offer through Babies Can’t Wait achieve this day in and day out.