Allegheny Intermediate Unit: Taking the Initiative with Early Intervention

A profile in the PAIU series, "Early Intervention Changes Lives:
Pennsylvania Families and the Intermediate Units that Serve Them"

The Evan Heather story: Exceeding expectations
The child care staff told Chelcey Heather her son had behavior problems, but she insisted, “That is not my kiddo.” Then she left work one day to observe him.

“He was very detached from the group,” she says. “He wasn’t using his words. He was very aggressive. I was shocked.”

Today, Evan communicates well, introduces himself, and is more outgoing. “He’s able to express what he’s feeling instead of just acting out,” and it’s all because of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit‘s Early Intervention program, says Heather.

Occupational therapy and communication therapists came directly to Evan’s child care to work with him. They’d also help his teachers manage his behaviors, focus his attention, and use “tips to help him get through the day successfully.”

Early Intervention staff even recognized that Evan needed new challenges and “pushed me out of the door in a nice way” when it was time for him to enter kindergarten, says Heather. Evan is now a thriving, energetic kindergartener, eager to play football and mixed martial arts.

“The teacher loves him,” says Heather. “She said he’s a lovely little boy. He helps all the kids. He listens. He pays attention. She said he’s one of her best students. He would have done none of this if it were not for Allegheny IU and Early Intervention.”

Allegheny IU: Mobilizing for maximum benefit
Allegheny IU Early Intervention calls its services DART – for Discovery, Assessment, Referral and Tracking.

In a territory covering suburban Allegheny County, “Discovery” means seeking out children who can benefit, instead of waiting for them to arrive. Staffers build relationships with hospitals, preschools, homeless shelters, and many other places that see families and children.

“The people there tend to know how to talk to the family, to have the family contact us and make the referral,” says DART Program Director Susan Sams, Ph.D.

“Assessment” and “Referral” engage children as soon as possible, because “if you get services to the children early, they may not need services when they get to kindergarten,” says Sams.

“Tracking” includes monitoring children’s progress and assuring family involvement. Children are seen in more than 400 preschool, Head Start, and child care settings. Parents can get help with transportation to meetings to discuss progress or the transition to kindergarten.

It’s all about being resourceful toward fulfilling the mission to help children develop and learn.
“I have a great staff who are very passionate about what they do,” says Sams. “They love this age group and see the difference they’re making in the lives of these kids.”

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