Thursday, February 2, 2012

Early Intervention

The early intervention system in Florida is called Early Steps.  I have a love-hate relationship with them, but mostly love.  Early Steps serves infants and toddlers from birth to 36 months regardless of their family's income.  The child will be tested and must have significant delays or an established condition (i.e. cerebral palsy, a chromosome disorder, autism, etc.)  To be enrolled in Early Steps the child must be found eligible through a screening process.

We went through the screening process with Finn when he was about 7 months of age.  His pediatrician and audiologist recommended we get him tested.  It was Finn's first standardized test.  The two ladies testing him were so wonderful and most of the test was me answering questions and some of the test was through their observation.  At this point in time, Finn had not yet been given a formal diagnosis so he did not have an established condition so we really needed him to "fail" the test.  Being honest, he barely failed and those two sweet ladies really did help him get approved.  We were assigned an Early Steps coordinator - this is he person that meets with you once a year to twice a year and the person you call to help get other services.  You want to have a good relationship with this person.

You will come up with an IFSP (individualized family support plan) - this is much like an IEP.  Here you lay out goals.  It is nice to include the therapist in this meeting.

So, Finn qualified for physical therapy 1 hr a week.  This means, a licensed physical therapist came to his daycare once a week and Early Steps paid the cost after our insurance ran out. When Finn turned one, he also qualified for occupational therapy and speech therapy each for one hour a week.  When Finn was two he was also eligible for a behavioral therapist for hour every other week.   

We were very fortunate that we were able to obtain three and half hours of therapy a week through Early Steps.  In addition to the therapy, Early Steps helped pay for Finn's first set of orthotics and they will pay up to $1,500 for hearing aids, hearing aid evaluations, molds, etc.

We were very lucky that we pushed for all of the hours of therapy Finn received through this program and Early Steps delivered.  Most families are not that lucky and usually only get 1 hour of therapy/wk through Early Steps.  My suggestion here is to keep pushing and to make sure they understand all of the issues.  The only reason we got Finn speech therapy at one year of age is because we had a swallow study done to show that he does not chew and aspirated when swallowing liquids.  Find out if there are steps you can take like that to get additional therapy. 

So for the first three years, you will be dealing with Early Steps.  Early Steps is a wonderful government program, but it does come with flaws.  They are understaffed which means some Early Steps coordinators may have a hard time calling you back.  If this happens repeatedly, don't be afraid to ask for a new coordinator.  We had four different coordinators and we had two that would call back right away and do anything to get Finn the services he need and two others that didn't seem to put forth the effort.

Early Steps also has a parent liaison.  Use this person!  They are familiar with Early Steps ins and outs and can also provide you with different resources and emotional support.  There are family resource libraries that include books, cd's dvd's, toys, etc.  In addition, Early Steps has set up play-dates and it is a good way for you to meet other families. 

Early Steps will also help you transition to the school system when your child approaches three.  This is an important time in your life and your child's and it is critical to have a good relationship with the coordinator so that he or she can really help you with this transition.  For me it was difficult, there were school choices, what should be put in the IEP, what kind of class should Finn go into to, etc.

Early Steps and your child's therapists are going to be some of the most important people/programs your child will ever have as studies show early intervention is key to long-term success.

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