Infants and toddlers make progress every day at Sunflower’s Early Education Center EEC as a result of the non-profit agency’s varied programs.
Sometimes the little ones learn new skills; other times they discover they are enjoying interaction with their peers for the first time.
But these, and many other benefits don’t stop in early childhood. They continue through the school-age years and into adulthood.
Sunflower Diversified Services owns and operates the EEC, located at 1312 Patton Road in Great Bend, which provides screenings and services to infants and toddlers in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. All services are free to families.
“The advantages of early education will last our children a lifetime,” said Cathy Estes, Sunflower children’s services coordinator. “It affects every aspect of their lives.”
When an issue is addressed early in life, a child’s developmental delay is at least alleviated and often overcome.
“If we can intervene in those first months and years of life, special education may not be necessary later on,” Estes said. “The sooner we can assess and address a delay, the easier it is for a child to reach developmental milestones.
“It has been proven that children who receive early intervention do better academically and socially throughout their lives,” she continued. “They learn communication and other skills, which are invaluable in their personal and professional lives.”
Estes cited recent information from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, which concluded early experiences influence the developing brain. A Harvard summary says, in part:
“From the prenatal period through the first years of life, the brain undergoes its most rapid development, and early experiences determine whether its architecture is sturdy or fragile. During early sensitive periods of development, the brain’s circuitry is most open to the influence of external experiences, for better or for worse.
“During these sensitive periods,” the summary continues, “healthy emotional and cognitive development is shaped by responsive, dependable interaction with adults, while chronic or extreme adversity can interrupt normal brain development.”
Estes said those few sentences reinforce the reasons the EEC provides a wide range of services for children with delays and disabilities. Sometimes the answer is just more socialization for a child who doesn’t have access to peers, extended family or mentors.
“It could also entail our speech, physical and occupational therapists who help with communication, walking or feeding delays,” Estes said. “Our four early childhood special education teachers also provide excellent intervention for enhanced problem solving and reasoning.
“These issues can often be overcome,” she added. “If they are addressed early enough, people don’t have to struggle later in life.”
Even if a child has a permanent disability, the EEC can offer guidance.
“Our professional staff can help minimize the problem by providing adaptive and coping skills,” Estes explained. “We can support children as they reach their highest potential, rather than accepting defeat. We have learned never to say never as young children always surprise us with their remarkable abilities.”
Estes also noted that all children are different and develop at their own pace. However, some guidelines should be considered.
“There are specific age-related milestones,” she explained. “We can screen a child and talk with parents to discover if intervention is needed. If it is and our staff intervenes, the child will enjoy a more rewarding and productive life.”