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Early Support Services can play a critical role in a child’s development

  • Liam Ketchum and mom Taylor play in Greenfield’s Oak Park this fall. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Liam Ketchum of Peterborough plays at Greenfield’s Oak Park this fall. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Liam Ketchum and mom Taylor play in Greenfield's Oak Park this fall. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Liam Ketchum and mom Taylor play in Greenfield's Oak Park this fall. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Liam Ketchum and mom Taylor play in Greenfield's Oak Park this fall. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/30/2020 5:07:11 PM

For Liam Ketchum, there was a good chance the extra chromosome in his little body was going to lead to some developmental delays.

“There was always the possibility he would,” Liam’s mom Taylor Ketchum said.

The Peterborough boy has what Taylor describes as a speech delay and it was evident early on he’d need services to help. At three-and-a-half years old, Liam doesn’t speak in complete sentences, but knows his colors and animals, can count to seven and has words for practical stuff that comes up every day.

“It’s slowly progressing and getting better, but it’s definitely slow,” Ketchum said. “The synapses in his brain don’t fire fast enough.”

But it’s an incredible change considering where Liam was prior to his referral for Rise for baby and family. His pediatrician knew that Liam would benefit from early intervention and looking back, Ketchum can’t imagine where his language level would be without those early support services they received through Rise.

“If we didn’t have that early intervention, we wouldn’t have the foundation he needed,” Ketchum said.

While Liam has aged out of Rise’s Early Support Services program that serves children and families from birth to age three and now receives services through the ConVal School District, Ketchum is thankful for the amount of effort that was shown toward her son.

“I think it really gave him a basic foundation for those skills and I credit Rise for giving him that,” Ketchum said. “I don’t think he’d be speaking the way he is today without it and he might not be confident trying to talk without them.”

While Ketchum didn’t seek out a referral for Liam, she said any parent that has a concern should. And it turns out, it’s quite easy to get one.

There are many questions that come with being the parent of a young child, said Jason Peck, program director for Monadnock Developmental Services’ Birth To Three program, with the most common one being whether or not a child is on track developmentally.

Fortunately parents can seek an evaluation for services that will address any needs that may arise during the crucial years of birth to age three and it only takes a few minutes online answering a questionnaire.

Alicia Deaver, executive director of Rise for baby and family, said the key is being able to talk to families about their concerns. Pat Payne, outreach coordinator at Rise, said it is important for parents to know they can seek an evaluation directly and don’t need to wait for one from a doctor.

“If it impacts your daily life or there are things parents aren’t seeing, those are great reasons to call,” Deaver said.

Developmental milestones are important for children to be school ready and early detection of expressive and language delays are critical to ensure a child is keeping up with others in their age group. Early intervention is the best way to keep children moving forward in their development, and time lost can mean more difficulties later in childhood.

“It’s just a really important time in a child’s life,” Peck said.

“From birth to three, the brain is growing the most and those are the critical years,” Deaver said. “It really does make a huge impact.”

Quite often, a referral will come from a child’s pediatrician or childcare provider, but parents can also ask for an evaluation to see if their child qualifies for services. The evaluation through MDS is free and if a child qualifies, will lead to a plan for services that could make a huge difference later in life.

For five years, MDS has used the LENA (Language Environment Analysis) Developmental Snapshot screening tool to help assess a child’s combined expressive and receptive language age. The snapshot’s tight focus on receptive and expressive language skills makes it an ideal assessment to measure a child’s development age. The quick snapshot is free, and entirely confidential.

The LENA tool is simple as parents provide basic information and gain access to the online questionnaire.

From there, the MDS intake team will determine if an evaluation is necessary, which will then be conducted by a team of trained professionals from sectors like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech pathologists.

Together, the evaluation team, using the Hawaii Early Learning Profile, will assess a child’s current development and decide if services are necessary to make up for any delays that might be occurring.

Sometimes, Payne said, families will go through the evaluation process and it will be determined that nothing is needed at that time. But if services are the next step, Peck said a meeting with the family will happen, where goals will be set for the child.

“The support plans really vary quite a bit,” Peck said. “It’s our job to make them as individualized as possible. It’s really tailored to the family’s and child’s needs.”

Once services are deemed necessary, families can choose from two local Early Supports & Services (ESS) agencies – Rise for baby & family and MDS Birth to Three.

“The earlier they receive services the better,” Payne said.

Peck said they write a plan that encompasses one year, but the intensity of the services vary depending on the child. There are also instances where a shorter time frame is needed to address any delays, but writing a plan for a year allows them to really strategize and plan to get the child back on track. And other times, children need services right up until they age out of the programs at three years old, where they will then receive services from their school district.

Deaver said they use occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech and language specialists that are cross trained because “development is very intertwined.”

“You have to be able to work with the whole child,” Deaver said.

Ketchum said Liam’s speech therapist made him feel comfortable and provided so many resources that helped her work with him at home. One being a book of different sounds, including names for people and animals, that provided a strong basis for beginning sounds. They started with services once a week and then it bumped up to twice a week when he got a little older. There was a lot of play involved and opened ended questions at first because he was essentially non-verbal outside of “ya” and “mama,” so “they really played on his strengths.” And having services in the home environment was key, Ketchum said.

“It’s so important to get them to feel comfortable,” she said.

Deaver said that the family approach to services is crucial.

“The goal is to really give the parents the potential skills to help the child,” Deaver said. “Because you learn so much more by doing.”

Peck said most referrals come to MDS because of language delays, but an underlying diagnosis of down syndrome, autism or other things, like in Liam’s case an extra chromosome, automatically qualify a child.

Deaver said the goal for a two-year-old child is to have 100 words or more and that about 75 percent of their services are for speech delays.

“It’s really very common,” Deaver said.

Peck said the key to a child’s language development is their everyday environment. Hearing adult words and conversational terms make a huge difference.

“That’s really the key to fostering language development,” he said.

He said there is a program they use that monitors what happens in the household, so they can collect and analyze data around language usage to best understand where gaps can be filled. And getting children into the program at the earliest possible age is critical.

“If you can be working with a family when a child is 18 months compared to the same child that is 30 months, that’s a whole year of looking at a family dynamic, the daily interactions and setting up a plan,” Peck said.

Peck said unfortunately he’s seen a lot of parents wait to seek an evaluation, but urges that if there are any concerns that the evaluation is easy and at the very least, can put any concerns at ease.

“There really is no downside to asking for an evaluation,” Payne said.

For Ketchum, she couldn’t agree more about the importance of having her child seen at a young age. It’s made a huge difference. She’s not sure what the future will hold for Liam. She hopes he catches up at some point, “but there’s no way of knowing.”

Peck said due to the coronavirus pandemic, services have been conducted using a hybrid approach. Some have been done through video conferencing, while others are still done in person. It all depends on the needs.

Deaver said ideally they want to be in the same room with the children and parents, but in the current times that has been replaced with telephone and teleconferences.

Parents, grandparents, interested family members, and professionals can access the evaluation. For more information, email Peck at Jason@mds-nh.org and set you up to fill out a confidential online Developmental Snapshot.

To find out more, visit www.mds-nh.org.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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