Many in the community know that Sunflower’s Early Education Center serves children with disabilities. But what they may not realize is the EEC also specializes in helping children overcome delays.
And there is a big difference.
Coordinator Cathy Estes believes that because of the confusion about the difference between disabilities and delays, the EEC may be missing children that could be helped in a relatively short period of time.
"Disabilities are conditions that are diagnosed, often at birth," Estes said. "They are more clearly defined as needing intervention. Examples are Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
"However," Estes continued, "our staff also focuses on developmental delays that are not necessarily permanent concerns. They include stuttering, a behavioral problem due to social/emotional concerns, or an attachment problem for premature babies who had to spend weeks in a hospital."
One recent example of a delay involved a child who was approaching 2 years old and not walking yet. Sunflower’s physical therapist began working with him, and within a few weeks the child was walking.
"Our therapist discovered it was a balance issue," Estes explained. "The therapy gave him the courage to walk without holding someone’s hand. And we gave his mother some exercises to work on daily with him. He overcame the problem."
The EEC serves children living at home in healthy environments, outside the home with family members and those in foster care. Barton County has a high foster-care rate, and children under 3 are referred to the EEC for evaluation. All EEC services are free.
Estes has successfully completed specialized training to help children with social/emotional issues, which often result from instability at home and/or substance abuse by parents.
"Sometimes children can be in and out of two or three homes on a regular basis," Estes said. "They need a secure place. Toddlers don’t understand why they can see mommy and daddy only on special visits; it affects them emotionally. We do everything possible to provide consistency between the parents and other caregivers.
"When teen moms don’t know how to be parents, children can become aggressive or passive," Estes continued. "They cannot calm down or they shy away. In either case, we can help."
EEC family service coordinators lead teams that include the physical therapist, speech pathologist, special education teacher and/or a counselor.
"Each child is different but we have professionals who are trained to help in a variety of ways," Estes said. "Sometimes a delay in development is just a glitch but with all our resources, it can often be alleviated or overcome completely.
"Parents sometimes just need to learn the importance of holding a baby, talking to a baby," Estes added. "They learn it is not okay just to leave them in a swing for hours on end."
Estes especially wants single teen parents to know the EEC can help with applying for assistance, finding adaptive equipment and seeking education on parenting skills.
"The bottom line is we will evaluate any child age birth to 3," Estes said. "All our contacts with children are either in their homes or in their day-care facilities. We know how important it is for children to be in their natural environments."
Since the importance of early development may be overlooked, Estes knows there are probably many more children and families who could benefit from the EEC’s expertise. The free services are available to any family in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties.
The EEC, which is supported by tax dollars and private donations, is one of 37 tiny-k networks in Kansas providing services for infants and toddlers.