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Reaching milestones with early intervention

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Two-year-old Blaise stands in his cozy red and green PJs. With his bright blue eyes, he curiously peeks out the window as Robin Sears, physical therapist for Virtua Health’s Early Intervention Program comes to the door. Robin has been visiting Blaise every other week since he was just three months old. “Wow, it’s so nice to see him standing there,” Robin says to Blaise’s mother. With a toddler’s ambition and the anticipation of what’s to come, Blaise makes a beeline through the living room cutting Robin off in the family room. “Look at him go,” Sears exclaims. Sears and Blaise meet on the floor and begin to rummage through a pile of toys. Blaise’s 5-year-old sister, Hannah, joins them in their weekly routine. Although Blaise is 2, walking is a milestone that started only a few months ago. Blaise’s parents, Mark and Maureen Roselli of Bordentown, discovered early into their pregnancy that Blaise has Down syndrome. Determined to give Blaise the best start in life possible, the Rosellis searched for ways to help their son through some of the challenges he would face. One of Blaise’s physicians recommended the Early Intervention Program (EIP) at Virtua Health.

What's Early Intervention?
The assessment
Working together to develop a plan
A part of the family
The transition
Learn more

What's Early Intervention?
Early Intervention is a program funded in part by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. It is comprised of physical, speech and occupational therapists as well as social workers and teachers for the deaf or handicapped. These specialists help children from birth to 3 years, who are experiencing developmental delays. A range of conditions causes these delays from hearing and speech difficulties to disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism. Currently, New Jersey will pay for up to two hours of service per week at no cost to the family. Families may have a co-payment if the child requires more treatment.

The assessment
Families don’t need a physician referral to be a part of the EIP program. “The program starts with a call from a parent,” explains Lisa Demko, manager of EIP at Virtua Memorial Hospital. “Although some are referred by a physician, many simply call after hearing about EIP through a friend or relative.” Treatment begins with an initial evaluation to establish eligibility for the program. Two therapists, aligned with the difficulties expressed by the parent, go to the home and assess the child’s development in a number of areas. To qualify for EIP, the child must exhibit a 33% delay in one area or a 25% delay in two areas. The therapists look at the child’s self-help skills such as dressing and feeding. They review learning abilities as well as speech and comprehension. The therapists examine the child’s gross and fine motor skills including walking, crawling and using the hands. They explore sensory development as well as the child’s interactions with other children and adults.

Working together to develop a plan
Based on the initial evaluation, members of the team work with the family to create an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP is an outline that identifies the child’s strengths and needs, the family’s goals and the treatment plan. The IFSP evolves with the child and is under constant review by all team members including the family, service provider and the EIP service coordinator. When it came time to develop the Roselli’s IFSP, the couple noted that Blaise would face challenges with speaking and walking due to muscle weakness. The Rosellis worked with the EIP therapists to formulate a program that would focus on these areas. Blaise’s IFSP includes visits once a week from a speech therapist, every other week from a physical therapist, and once a month from a teacher.

A part of the family
Demko explains that the program goes beyond weekly visits from therapists. “We go into homes and help families find learning opportunities within their natural environment. We teach families to enhance their child’s development throughout the day.” The Rosellis say: “They looked at our daily routine and showed us how to work with Blaise. We learned how to massage his cheeks while he brushed his teeth. This helps strengthen the muscles for speech. They showed us ways to encourage Blaise to stand to develop the muscles for walking. Blaise’s sister even learned to help him through play.” The EIP program also includes support groups specifically for mothers and one for fathers as well as fun outings and field trips where EIP families get together with their children and therapists.

The transition
Since the program only provides services up to age 3, some parents get concerned. But, the EIP service coordinator and service provider assists the family with the transition. The therapists and the service coordinator educate families about the process of leaving EIP and accessing services through the schools and community professionals. They help families find the services they’ll need from therapists to special schooling. The Early Intervention Program at Virtua Health empowers hundreds of families each year to make a difference in their child’s development. “Just like any other child, Blaise deserves the opportunity to excel at what he does best,” says his father. “The Early Intervention Program helps us focus on what Blaise can do. Together we build on his strengths.”

Learn more
For more information about the Early Intervention Program at Virtua Memorial Hospital or to locate an EIP in other surrounding counties, call toll-free 1-888-Virtua-3 (1-888-847-8823) or call the Burlington County Special Child Health Services Department at 609-267-1952.