Early intervention makes a difference

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 11, 2003

Pediatritions, child pshycologists and all manner of child care providers constantly emphasize the first years of life for development, both mentally and physically.

And that’s exactly why the Early Intervention Center at Cheaha Mental Health does.

By working with children with developmental problems, the organization is able to target issues before they become bigger problems.

They also become family members.

The special instructors; physical, verbal and occupational therapists, case workers and dozens of others become intimate with their patient, in what they call &uot;family driven&uot; care.

The program specializes in helping parents and caregivers of children with developmental problems, on just about all levels.

Early Intervention specializes in helping parents help their children. By going into their homes EI literally trains parents to be a permanant therapist for their children. Karthryn Whetstone, director of the program, said, &uot;If we can show and empower the parents and show them what to do, then the chidren are getting therapy all day long.&uot;

The group also works with daycare providers for the same goal: to make sure these children get every chance to progress mentally, physically or otherwise.

The children are referred through a variety of sources to the program, and are then tested according to five different categories to determine whether or not therapy is needed.

Developmental disorders include problems with walking and talking, fine motor skills and even physical therapy for young amputees.

These children are sometimes, but not always, mentally retarded.

Of the some 56 cases the program handles, the children range in problems, but all are helped for just about issue that may arise.

Shabrianna Harris, the 14 month old dautghter of Sharon Harris, was born four months premature.

Alabama hospitals often alert early intervention programs statewide about premature children. Methods of referral to the program vary, but just about anyone, from social workers to clergy to parents, can ask the center for testing.

Shabrianna was tested by several doctors, but it wasn’t until last month she was diagnosed with Noonan’s Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.

The disease causes her heart defect, but her mother Sharon said, &uot;I hope she grows out of it.&uot;

Once a week, the early intervention program provides Shabrianna with physical and occupational therapy, allowing her and her mother to enjoy some of the finer things of childhood.

Simple things, like playing patty-cake or crawling, may be taken for granted by some parents, but Sharon is delighted to be able to do them with Shabrianna. &uot;I enjoy it,&uot; said Sharon, &uot;She’s trying to crawl and she’s saying a couple of words. It’s fun. People say she’s getting better.

The early intervention program even provided Sharon with transportation to Birmingham so Shabrianna could be tested, and diagnosed with Noonan’s.

Erica Tabb, Shabrianna’s special instructor, said, &uot;She’s doing much better.&uot;

There was a time when the group didn’t know if they’d be able to provide their services.

After state cuts in the education budget, where the group is funded from, the EI program &045;- serving Wilcox, Dallas and Perry Counties &045;- was almost shutdown.

Emergency funding from the United Way allowed them to continue.

Jeff Cothran, executive director of the United Way, said, &uot;It’s a worthwhile program.&uot;

Luckily for children like Alexis Struggs, the program is around to help them.

With Struggs, after a year and a half of physical therapy, her special instructor has become a part of her life.

Janise Chlora, Alexis’ special instructor said, &uot;I’m attached to probably every child I work with.&uot;

Alexis was born with defects in her legs. At six months, she had both legs amputated.

As soon as they healed, Early Intervention helped her mother get Alexis her prostethic legs through Alabama Artificial Limbs.

Since then, Chlora has seen Alexis once a week, visiting the bubbly two-year-old in her home.

Janise doesn’t have children of her own, unless you count her two dogs, four cats, a bird and the sometimes dozens of children she instructs each week.

Probably the saddest time and happiest time for Janise is when her &uot;kids&uot; turn three.

At three, all the children are absorbed into the public school system.

The transfer takes a long time though and it begins at least six months before they turn three.

Part of what the instructors and therapists do is meet with teachers and other educators to inform them of the steps needed to continue the progress all the children experience.

Alexis’ mother, Tamara Walker, is thrilled with the help she’s received. &uot;Early Intervention has helped out greatly. Janise teaches me how to teach Alexis how to walk on her walker.