A Piece for the Early Intervention Quarterly Newsletter

A couple of weeks ago, Sam’s Early Intervention program asked me if I would write a piece about our experience with their program, which they’ll print in their quarterly newsletter. I was glad to get to do so, since we’ve been so happy with it! Given that most of you probably don’t get their quarterly newsletter, I figured I’d share it here, too. I am, however, replacing the name of the organization with the generic “Early Intervention” or “EI,” for privacy purposes—I don’t like publishing where my kids attend school. 🙂

“I’ll put him in Early Intervention he starts walking,” I told everyone. I was pretty sure he’d be walking by age two, and that seemed a reasonable time to start. I knew he was eligible to go to site-based Early Intervention as young as 18 months, but I just wasn’t ready. And as age two approached—much too fast for my liking—I still wasn’t ready.

I told everyone it was because he wasn’t walking, and I had worked so hard with him that I wanted to be there for his first steps. No way my baby boy was going to take his first steps at EI without me there to see them! But there was more to it than that. I was fine with having a child with special needs—it didn’t really bother me that I hadn’t planned for that. Go with the flow, right? But what did bother me was that I had structured my adult life so that I could stay home with my kids until they started school, and I had envisioned three or four years of Sam being home with me before I had to let him go to preschool. Letting my child go to “school” before he was even two years old wasn’t part of the plan, and I was not okay with it! And besides, I just simply liked having him home with me. Sam is a very cheerful, pleasant little boy, and I loved his happy face being a part of my morning, every morning.

Sam’s infant development specialist works at the Early Intervention center, and every week as he approached age two, we would talk about this as she worked with Sam. “You’ll know when you’re ready,” she would assure me. “But I’ll tell you, they’re going to love him there. The biggest problem is that they’re going to be fighting over him!” I didn’t doubt it—Sam can charm the most stoic, standoffish of people just by flashing a grin at them. But I still wasn’t ready. “He’s not walking yet,” I’d say. “I’ll do it when he’s walking.”

And then I got involved in an online discussion with some special-needs parents, and one of them said, “He’s not at EI yet, and he’s almost two? Girl, you’ve got to get him in there. Come have coffee with my business partner and me. Her daughter went there too, and I know she’d be happy to talk to you.”

So I did. And I met her partner’s daughter, Lily, an incredibly sociable, talkative, sassy, smart, independent nine-year-old with Down syndrome. Lily charmed me immediately, and I commented to her mom about how impressed I was with her abilities.

“Early Intervention,” she said simply. “It was the best thing I ever did for her. I firmly believe that.”

I told her that I was having a hard time letting go, and she looked at me and said, “I was the same way. I was the mother who sat in the parking lot and cried the entire first week that I dropped Lily off. That wasn’t what I had planned, and I didn’t want that—I wanted her home with me! But it turned out to be the absolute best thing I could’ve done for her. She just blossomed. Don’t wait to start him until you think it’s a good time—there’s never a right time. Just try it.”

I spent about six more weeks insisting that I needed Sam to be walking first…and then I gave in and went in for a tour of the EI facility. And when he was 25 months old (and still not walking), I signed him up to start three mornings a week, and the head teacher in the E— classroom lit up in a huge smile, clapped, and said, “YAY! We’ve heard so much about Sam, and we were hoping he’d join us in our classroom!”

The morning Sam started, as I tried not to cry, I walked him into the E— classroom and saw his beloved infant development specialist, standing there and waiting to welcome him so he (and I!) would see a familiar face on his first day. I swallowed the lump in my throat as I handed my not-walking baby boy off and left the building.

In a very short time, I realized I had made a mistake—I should’ve enrolled him for five days a week, because he loved it! He loved his classroom, he loved his teachers—he was happy as a clam. As soon as a five-day spot opened up in the E— classroom, I grabbed it.

Sam has now been at Early Intervention for nine months, and oh, how he has grown! He quickly settled into the classroom routines and became an avid fan of circle time. If anyone disturbs his circle time, he is one cranky kid! Eating has always been a struggle for us at home (and in fact is one of the biggest reasons why I eventually decided to give Early Intervention a try), and at EI he sits down at a table with his friends, eats a zillion foods that he refuses to touch at home, and then cleans up his place and puts away his lunch bag when he’s finished. He brushes his teeth, he washes his hands with very minimal assistance, and he’s learned to put toys away when he’s finished playing with them. When I see the things he does at EI, I realize how much I underestimate him at home. Because he’s my “baby,” it’s easy for me to fall into the pattern of doing things for him. But when I see him at EI, I realize how independent he truly is—and how capable.

Sam has also learned to play with the other kids in his class. One day I came to help out in class, and I got to watch him at recess. My little boy, who can speak only a few words clearly, was playing a racing game with his friends, where they would all line up on their push cars at the end of the playground and would fly across the blacktop, racing each other to the other side. Then they’d turn around and do it again. He can’t talk, but he’s learned how to communicate with other children. Amazing!

And even though he can’t talk much yet, the progress Sam has made in speech is amazing. He signs with his teachers, but he is increasingly switching from signing to spoken language with them, and he’s communicating ever more complex needs and wants to them every day.

Now the age of three is approaching (much too fast for my liking!), and before I know it Sam won’t be able to go to EI anymore. And I’m so sad about it! It has become like a second home to us, and the teachers and therapists like family. Sam has learned so much from them, but I think a beautiful and unique part of the program is that it focuses on the whole family. It’s not just a place where you drop off your child and he learns some things and then returns home. It’s a place where family is considered a huge component of the learning process, and teachers and staff work with the family to make the child’s Early Intervention experience cohesive with the home environment. And that kind of program just kind of becomes like an extension of family—and hard to say goodbye to when the time comes. In just a couple of months we’ll have to, but I am not looking forward to it, and I know Sam will be disappointed not to see his beloved friends and teachers every day anymore. But time marches on, and at least I know that Sam’s time at EI has better prepared him to go into preschool—in a class of typically developing peers.

Oh, and that walking thing? He finally did it at 27 months. He took his first steps in our house, walking toward me and saying, “Mama! Mama!” And I cried tears of joy…

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