As children all across the country start school for the first time, the first five years leading up to beginning school is a critical to their success.  A child’s early learning experiences set the foundation for later brain development and future skill acquisition.  Unfortunately there are more than one million young children with unidentified disabilities entering classrooms with learning and health issues that put them far behind their peers and will have a lasting, negative effect on their ability to meet their full potential. Children who do not develop early skills that serve as the building blocks for later school success are less likely to graduate from high school or receive high earnings as adults. (1212 Alliance for Excellent Education).

As a leading provider of early intervention services, Easter Seals staff, therapists and families know what’s possible when kids get the support they need during the first five years of life—and also what happens when they don’t.  That’s why Easter Seals is providing opportunities and resources to build awareness and give children at risk of developmental delays, disabilities or autism, the right support they need to be school-ready and build a foundation for a lifetime of learning.

The Ages & Stages Questionnaires® is a screening tool used to evaluate how children are developing on both physical and social-emotional levels.  The parent-friendly questionnaire helps identify children from one month through age five with developmental delays and allows parents to easily and effectively monitor their child’s development.  The ASQ is available at www.makethefirstfivecount.org. Easter Seals, through generous support of the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust, is offering parents free access to this online screening tool from Brookes Publishing.    Through the process of completing the ASQ questionnaire, parents and caregivers will be more aware of the importance of the developmental milestones children should achieve in their early years.  The process also helps provide information on what to do if these milestones are not being met.  Within two weeks of completing the questionnaire, parents receive a letter from Easter Seals including the results of the responses and any recommended next steps.

The National Institute on Early Education Research reports that “research demonstrates that high-quality preschool education can substantially increase children’s chances of succeeding in school and in life.  Children who attend high quality pre-kindergarten programs are less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to need special education and more likely to graduate high school.  They are less involved in crime and delinquency.  They also earn more as adults and are less likely to become dependent on welfare.”

Easter Seals is working across the community to provide help, hope and answers for families with young children living with disabilities – delivering personalized services and treatments necessary for a great start to life and school readiness.   Easter Seals offers a comprehensive approach to support children who may be at risk for developmental delays, ensuring they are screened so they can be prepared to start school with the help they need.  It is our mission to support individuals with disabilities in developing the necessary skills to have a productive life and create a supportive environment for the family as a whole.

Millions of families with young children struggle to find high quality, safe, affordable childcare. Easter Seals provides quality childcare services under a service model that is center-based, full-day and full-year childcare services for children with and without disabilities.   Easter Seals provides quality educational and therapeutic services led by qualified and dedicated staff, implementing developmentally appropriate practices. The Easter Seals Child Development Center serves as a childcare model that is supported by research.  Research conducted over the past decade has demonstrated that children with disabilities significantly benefit from receiving appropriate services alongside their typically-developing peers and all children learn to respect and value diversity— that learning will last a lifetime.

Easter Seals provides early intervention services through the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program for children birth to three years of age.  We know how critical this time is because the earlier we can begin intervention, the better the outcomes for the children and their families. We have the Parents as Teachers (PAT) home visiting program for families expecting a child or with children up to age 5.  This program works one-on-one with parents on child development to ensure young children are healthy, safe and ready to learn.  The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) serves families with children ages, 3 to 5.  This program supports parents as their children’s best first teacher to focus on pre-school readiness skills.

Children only receive services when their parents or caregivers take action early.  If parents are worried their child may have a delay in their development, they should follow their instincts, share their concerns with their pediatrician, get a diagnosis, and self-refer to an organization like Easter Seals.  Disabilities affect each individual differently and to varying degrees—getting the right help at the earliest stage of life can help a child gain the skills he or she needs to be ready to learn and make starting school the first step in a successful future.

By Patricia Rosenlund, MS, Easter Seals RGV Executive Director