The Childhood Development Experts

by stephen kosnar

As parents of infants and toddlers, we’ve all been there, you’re at the park watching your son or daughter play and suddenly you notice another child the same age, and as the child scampers up the playground equipment and whips down the slides, it’s obvious she’s more physically advanced than your own child. Or perhaps you have a friend with a child near the same age as your own, but your friend’s child is a chatterbox, using loads of words, while your own child is quieter and seems to know less words. Without knowing what is typical development for someone your child’s age, you become anxious and begin to wonder is my child delayed?

Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) is an organization in Billings that wants parents to know, when it comes to infants, from birth to 36 months, they’re development experts. And when parents have any development questions, they shouldn’t hesitate to call.

ECI has been helping families in Billings for 32 years, but just recently moved to their new location off of Grand Avenue. The ECI program, which is a system of support and services to meet children’s individual development needs, is a joint project between the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPH & HS—Developmental Disabilities Division) and the Billings Public Schools. The program receives funding from the Department of Public Health and Human Services and Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C. The services provided are free for those eligible—currently 134 families that live within the Billings city limits receive services.

Leslie Jackson is the program coordinator at ECI. She is bright-eyed and energetic when talking about helping families with developmentally delayed children. She explains how a child qualifies for ECI’s services, “After we perform a screening, there is an assessment—there are 5 developmental domains we look at—and if there is 1 50% delay or 2 25% delays, the child qualifies.” (The 5 domains screened include: social/emotional skills, motor skills, communication skills, cognitive skills and adaptive skills.)

Leslie emphasizes that the screening processes can be daunting for parents. Our children are precious to us—learning they have a delay strikes close to the heart. What parents should understand, however, is that by having a screening and assessment of their child, they actually are being empowered to help their child. After an assessment is made by a Family Support Specialist, recommendations and an Individualized Family Service Plan are written for the parents. At this point, parents decide whether they want to continue and follow the plan.

“We’re a resource,” Leslie explains. “Nothing is forced on the parents—decisions aren’t taken away. We want to help parents gain more control over their situations.”

I first met Kathy Karls, a Family Support Specialist, after a children’s story time she hosted at Barnes and Noble. I had a couple of questions about my 1-year-old son’s development. Kathy explained to me that when a child is learning a new skill, for example a gross motor skill like walking, another skill like talking can be put on hold. Over a longer period of time, however, if a child seems to be “losing” words, it can be a red flag for a developmental disability.

On my car ride home, I was thinking of my conversation with Kathy and what struck me most was how deftly she balanced her enthusiasm for her work and a sensitivity towards my concern as a parent. Her knowledge of childhood development poured out, but she seemed to know just when to back off so she wasn’t unnecessarily alarming me. Everything remained positive.

When I told this anecdote to Leslie Jackson, she wasn’t surprised. She told me that the rapport that Family Support Specialists establish with parents is perhaps the program’s greatest strength. “The Family Support Specialists really—in many ways—become part of the family,” she says. “But also we want to teach families to teach their child.”

It’s ECI’s goal to Launch Lifelong Learners and naturally in the learning continuum parents are the first, the primary, educators. So Family Support Specialists need to work closely with parents to help give them the information and tools they need, which includes helping parents deal with the emotions they are experiencing.

Parents sometimes expect their children to make rapid progress once they start a plan with ECI, and they become frustrated and dejected when they don’t see the improvement they had envisioned. “I tell parents the journey they are on is like a boat ride,” says Kathy Karls. “The parents steer the boat and sometimes they go downstream, sometimes they go upstream, sometimes they have to pull over and dock it. But the whole time we’re doing it together. We are here to help direct them so that they find their way.” Kathy pauses and her eyes open wide, “The great thing is that sometimes the boat ride is really slow and it seems like we’re never going to get there—but in the end, we all get there.”

If a child does have a developmental delay, identifying it early is important. Studies like those presented by the American Academy of Pediatricians show that early intervention programs increase the likelihood of positive development. For parents living in Billings, ECI is ready to help get the earliest possible start to understanding how to best help our children grow, develop and be happy members of our families and community. SFM

Early Developmental Milestones…

By 3 months:

.Push up on arms and hold up head

. Follow a moving toy with eyes

. Startle by a loud noise

By 6 months:

. Sit up with light support

. Babble when alone

. Reach for objects

By 9 months:

. Sit without support

. Crawl (up on hands and knees)

. Imitate sounds such as ìmamaî

By 12 months:

. Pull up to a standing position

. Finger-feed solid foods

By 18 months:

. Walk well and run

. Name some objects

By 24 months:

. Walk up and down stairs

. Stack 2-4 objects

. Use 2-3 word sentences

By 30 months:

. Sort by shape, color, size

. Participate in stories/nursery rhymes

. Imitate drawings, circles