When a 3-year-old child walked into Incredible Years Preschool last fall, the teachers knew something was different.
The youngster didn’t make eye contact, had virtually no language skills, wouldn’t interact with anyone and was indifferent to the surroundings. School officials suspected a problem and, after talking with the parent, made a referral to a developmental pediatrician in Wichita.
“We are seeing this over and over again,” said Cathy Estes, coordinator of Incredible Years. “Some of our preschoolers who have developmental delays should have had our Early Education Center (EEC) services. In virtually any circumstance, early intervention between the ages of birth and 3 years can mean all the difference in the world.”
Estes also is coordinator of the EEC; Sunflower Diversified Services owns the EEC and Incredible Years.
“Because 90 percent of brain development occurs in the first three years of life, we cannot stress enough the importance of early intervention,” Estes said. “Intervention can improve conditions once thought to be virtually untreatable, such as autism.
“Our EEC staff members are trained to notice that a child may not be meeting developmental milestones,” she added. “Parents can easily miss something.”
In the child’s case, the mother thought preschool would be good for peer interaction and her child would “‘grow out of it,’” Estes recalled. “This is a common response.”
Today, the child is a student at Helping Hands Preschool, qualifying for its special education program through USD 428.
“Helping Hands is the school district’s preschool for 3 to 5 year olds who are eligible for special education; Incredible Years is a typical preschool,” Estes explained. “It is an excellent preschool for all kids and provides an exceptional pre-kindergarten program.”
Estes noted that if a child has a speech delay or poor relationship skills, autism could be indicated. In such an instance, EEC staff members with specialized autism training could detect the problem early. They have worked with children at the EEC that are now doing well in Incredible Years, she added.
“The young brain is very pliable, making it easier to develop skills,” Estes said. “Our intensive, well-designed intervention can enhance the quality of life for children at risk for cognitive, social or emotional impairment.
“In many cases,” Estes added, “EEC services can overcome or at least alleviate problems so that special education in ‘regular’ school is not necessary.”
The bottom line: When parents have any question about a child’s speech, hearing, cognitive skills, physical limitations or other developmental issues, they should contact the EEC for screening, Estes said. The services are free to anyone.
“Maybe everything is fine, but there is nothing like peace of mind,” Estes said. “We know some parents don’t want to ‘label’ children but I can guarantee you the children will have more productive and rewarding lives if they get the help they need early in life.”
For more information, contact the EEC by calling 620-792-4087. It is part of the state’s tiny-k network.