Montgomery County IU 23: Never say Never
A profile in the PAIU series, "Early Intervention Changes Lives:
Pennsylvania Families and the Intermediate Units that Serve Them"
The Alex Lee story: Fully included
When her son was born with Down syndrome, Cecilia Lee felt “pretty lost.” Would her son walk one day? Would he talk? Would he recognize her?
“Based on the information I received, it was hard to receive a positive outlook on his future,” she says.
Today, Alex is 8 years old, surrounded by friends and fully included in his second-grade classroom. In every year of elementary school, teachers have noticed that having Alex around brings out the natural sweetness and helpfulness of his classmates.
Alex is an avid reader and movie fan. He and his sister, Isabelle, write scripts for videos that dad Jacob Lee produces. In this bilingual household, Alex writes and reads Korean even better than his older, gifted sister.
It all comes “from having a great experience with Early Intervention,” says his mom.
In preschool, Montgomery County IU 23 Early Intervention staff worked with classroom teachers to ensure Alex’s participation in all the activities his classmates enjoyed. When students sat down to color with crayons, Alex stood more comfortably at an easel, coloring with markers.
His parents didn’t want Alex to be pulled out of class for therapies, so Early Intervention staff worked with him on the playground equipment after school. They taught the classroom teacher strategies to use with him – strategies that also helped other students overcome their own learning hurdles.
Today, the Lees anticipate a bright future, including college, for Alex. Early Intervention helped the family think in possibilities.
“We don’t take no for an answer, and we find different approaches,” says Lee. “What are the things we can try so he can participate? We were taught to include Alex in everything we do as a family.”
Montgomery County IU 23: Putting customers first
As the saying goes, the reward for hard work is more hard work. Beginning around 2012, Montgomery County IU 23 Early Intervention took steps to improve service delivery, which sparked word of mouth about its responsiveness to families, which prompted more referrals.
By 2016, MCIU Early Intervention was serving 2,850 children, about 100 more than originally projected, “and we’re still growing,” says MCIU Director of Student Services Dr. Lois Robinson.
The program takes a welcoming, customer-service approach, including:
“We really welcome the families, and we want them to view us as a partner, to see that we’re working together with them,” says Robinson. “Our goal is to help the children prepare for kindergarten.”
- Performing initial evaluations as thoroughly as possible, to avoid missing important factors and subjecting children and families to further testing later.
- Employing a bilingual receptionist and therapists.
- Offering services anywhere in the child’s natural environment, including the home. Though this approach adds time and travel, the investment pays off by giving parents a firsthand look at therapies they can incorporate into family life.
- Working with parents to plan information sessions and fun activities, such as get-togethers for Early Intervention families. “It gives the families a chance to socialize as well as the children,” says Robinson.
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