Seneca Highlands IU 9: Developing in Phases

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

Changing lives: The AJ Woodward-Furman story
Using his iPad, AJ Woodward-Furman taught himself to read and study different languages shortly after his 4th birthday. He loves puzzles. He loves playing with trucks. All this from a boy, now 5 years old, who could barely talk at age 3.

Seneca Highlands IU 9 Early Intervention is giving AJ “a chance at life,” says his mom, Jillian Furman.
“If they didn’t have this kind of service, I honestly don’t know what we could have done,” she says. “They help our child develop into who he is and learn the skills he needs to hopefully go on to a happy life.”

AJ was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, at age 2. He progressed from a classroom with one-on-one instruction and therapy, doing such memory-strengthening activities as recreating blocks in patterns, to a less restrictive setting. Now, he is in an “everyday, run-of-the-mill preschool that your regular kid would go to.”

As the family prepares for the kindergarten transition, AJ’s mom says Early Intervention staff have “always gone above and beyond what I would ever expect of them.”

“I wish I could take them throughout the whole schooling experience,” says Furman. “They’ve made it very smooth and very easy. They’ve always told us if we don’t like something, there’s an alternative way of doing things, and they’d help us figure that out.”

The Seneca Highlands IU 9 approach: Seamless progression

Seneca Highlands IU 9 Early Intervention strives for inclusion. They ask parents, “Where would your child go to preschool if they didn’t have a disability?” From there, they support the children and the teachers in preschool classrooms of all kinds, whether faith-based, child care, PreK or Head Start.

With an inclusion mindset and reverse mainstream classes, where children with disabilities equal those without, the benefits flow into the broader community. Community groups and school districts brainstorm ideas for raising awareness about the importance of early learning on the developing brain.

Projects that have emerged include a blog of activities parents can do with their children, activity kits for waiting rooms, and informational cards developed in conjunction with school districts and other community organizations describing Early Intervention and other early childhood offerings. Those cards inform parents about brain research and development, says Early Intervention Supervisor Janice Vicini, “and have become a recognized resource for families in our four county area.”


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