Ask the Expert: Helping Children by Empowering ParentsJan 29, 2024 10:54AM ● By Emily Freehling
Helping Children by Empowering Parents
Parent Education – Infant Development puts parents in position to help children meet developmental milestones.
INTERVIEWED BY EMILY FREEHLING
When a child is delayed in meeting developmental milestones in the first three years of life—a critical time for brain growth—it can be hard to know what to do. Parent Education-Infant Development (PE-ID) is a program of the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board known commonly as early intervention. PE-ID’s team of occupational, physical, speech and other therapy providers work with parents and young children together in the home to give parents the tools to help their children through frequent, repeated, play-based exercises that fit into common daily habits such as diaper changes and feedings.
The goal is to help children ages 0 to 3 narrow developmental gaps and put them on a path to be as ready as possible for kindergarten and the years ahead. Get to know PE-ID and its approach to helping parents and children in the following interview with PE-ID Program Coordinator Suzanne Haskell and Part C System Manager Alison Standring.
Q: How do PE-ID’s services differ from outpatient therapy services?
Alison Standring: Early intervention services are provided under a parent coaching model in the family’s home. We are facilitating the parent to work with the child more than we are working directly with the child. We show parents how to incorporate specific practices that can address their child’s delay into frequent daily routines, and then we give parents and children time to work on those skills and hopefully see progress before our next visit. As a result, our visits are less frequent than what you would find in an outpatient therapy service.
We are not there to work solely with the child. We are there to work with the parent, and to show the parent how they can help the child every day. So active parental participation in our sessions is essential.
The early intervention philosophy is that parents know their children best, and the child will respond to the parent better than they will to an outsider. If we can help parents incorporate strategies into what they are doing every day, they will maximize their child’s progress. Instead of a physical therapist coming in four times a week to do exercises, parents can do stretching exercises during every diaper change. Language opportunities aren’t limited to time slots with a speech therapist—they happen all day long. When parents are empowered, the child gets far more therapy than we or any outpatient provider could facilitate.
Q: Why are parents at the center of early intervention’s approach?
Alison Standring: Parents are with their children far more often than we could ever be with a child. They have that many more opportunities to provide that intervention by incorporating it into whatever they’re doing in their daily routines. Parents also know their children’s baseline, their routines and skills better than any provider. Ultimately, they are going to be able to effectively incorporate the techniques we teach into a typical day far better than we could.
Q: PE-ID works with children from birth to 36 months. What if I don’t notice any sign of developmental delay in my child until 24 or even 30months? Is it too late to reach out?
Alison Standring: No. It’s never too late to reach out. However, depending on the child’s age, we may not be the most appropriate resource. Anywhere up to about 32 33 months, it’s not too late to reach out to our program. We can assess where the child is developmentally and provide some strategies. But by 33 months, we’ve lost most of the window for our services, and at that point we would provide a referral to either Child Find in the public school system or outpatient therapy.
Q: Do I need to have a certain type of health insurance to access early intervention services?
Alison Standring: No one is denied services due to an inability to pay. Medicaid covers our services, and we also bill private insurance when the parent gives us permission to do so. As one of the many services provided in our community by the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, we also offer a sliding fee scale based on family size and income, with a process in place to allow families to fully demonstrate their ability to pay so that income does not become a barrier to delivering these life-changing services to young children.
Q: How can I know whether my child might have a developmental delay and need early intervention services?
Alison Standring: Any parent who is wondering about whether their child is meeting developmental milestones can call PE-ID at 540-372-3561 to set up an assessment. Parents can use tools such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s milestone tracker app to learn about how young children typically develop.
Q: What happens after a child is 36 months old?
Alison Standring: Every child’s journey is different, but we walk side-by-side with families to help them transition to the next step. For some children, that will sim-ply be spending time at home or in preschool until they head to kindergarten. For other families, we help refer them to preschool special education for those who may need ongoing services through the school system. Transition does not happen the day before a child turns 3 or the day before discharge. It’s an ongoing process to move them into the next most appropriate setting.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Suzanne Haskell: It’s that moment when we see the parents light up when they realize that not only did their child just hit a milestone, but the child did it because the parent helped them achieve that growth. A lot of our most rewarding moments come not when we’re in the house with the parent, but when the parent chooses to send us a video a week later of what their child has achieved because they’ve been working on skills with their parent.
To learn more, call 540-372-3561 or visit Rappahannockreacsb.org