Richie was still in the NICU when we were asked whether we wanted to get him involved in Early Intervention. His disability was apparent at birth, as was the need for assistance with therapies and navigating a complex system of care. Because Early Intervention had been one of my husband’s past career lives, we said yes and enrolled Richie very early. This decision was very instrumental in teaching me to advocate for him and look for ways to meet his needs.
Early Intervention in our area involved having a specialist come to our home at regular intervals. Richie’s specialist, Deb, visited every other week and challenged him with activities that took into account his skill levels. She documented his progress and worked with us to get him equipment and other tools to help him develop.
The lending library was one of my favorite aspects of Early Intervention. We borrowed the Signing Times series and used it to teach Richie sign language. By the time he was a year old, Richie knew more than 100 signs and could use them appropriately. Working with the Early Intervention staff, we established our vision for Richie’s future and made plans that included academic achievement, growth and development, and social interaction.
The visioning program encouraged us to think about Richie’s needs for the upcoming year and allowed us to request funding to purchase therapy items and medical equipment that were not covered by insurance. We planned well and purchased items that Richie is still able to use today, like a supportive chair, a bolster for therapy, and books and interactive toys. These were foundational to the academic success and knowledge we have been able to facilitate. At three, Richie reads about 100 sight words, can spell and write, and still knows sign language, even though we now encourage more verbal language.
Perhaps most importantly, Early Intervention included playgroups. These weekly groups allowed Richie to interact with peers and gave me a chance to talk to their parents in a relaxed setting. One of the moms I met in playgroup connected me with the Family Advisory Council of our local children’s hospital, and that connection gave me a sense of purpose and belonging. Raising a child with special needs can be lonely; most of my friends don’t identify with the daily struggles or the small victories that are hallmarks of this life. The connections I forged just by participating with Richie in playgroup allowed me to create a new, empowered template for how to approach parenting a child with special needs.
Looking back, the decision to check the “yes” box for Early Intervention was one of the most important decisions I could have made as a parent.