How does Somerset County's Early Intervention Program help young kids thrive?

·3 min read

Babies have a lot to learn in their first three years of life — tasks like rolling over, crawling, sitting up and learning to walk, talk and eat — and each child learns those skills at a different pace.

When parents are concerned that their child is not performing those milestone activities that are typical for the child’s age, Pennsylvania offers a free Early Intervention Program to evaluate and improve developmental delays in children from birth to age 3.

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In Somerset County, this Early Intervention Program is coordinated by Bedford-Somerset Developmental & Behavioral Health Services, aka DBHS. Parents can call DBHS at 814-443-4891 and request an in-home evaluation to determine if their child can benefit from specific services like physical or occupational therapy, speech therapy, hearing or vision services and more. The evaluation and services are provided at no cost to the family.

Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber’s physical therapy department became affiliated with the county’s Early Intervention Program in July, said Tonya McCool, who is a staff physical therapist at the medical center and its Early Intervention supervisor.

This affiliation means that families participating in the county’s Early Intervention Program now have the option to select Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber to provide outpatient physical therapy for their young child.

“(People) know we offer pediatric outpatient physical therapy, but they’re not aware that we offer Early Intervention physical therapy services,” she said. “We know referrals are high but provider availability is low, so we saw a need that we could meet.”

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'Set them up for success'

When physical therapy is recommended, a therapy plan is prepared based upon the evaluation and the overall goal for the child, McCool said.

Physical therapy sessions can then take place in the home or at another community location, such as the grocery store, the library or at a park.

For example, the physical therapist may work with the parents to help the child learn to sit upright in the seat of a grocery cart, in a chair at the library or in a swing at the playground.

“This program allows us to leave the walls (of the outpatient clinic) and meet the family where they’re at,” she said. “Our goal would be to coach the family in these strategies so the family can practice them with the child throughout the week.

“Especially in early intervention, it’s about coaching the family to perform these techniques through the week. With family involvement, that’s where we can see the child reach and attain those goals.”

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No medical diagnosis or physician referral is required to request an Early Intervention Program evaluation or to receive services. More information about the program is available at the DBHS website, http://dbhs.co/services/developmental-services/early-intervention-program/.

“There’s no rhyme or reason that a child would be presented with a delay,” McCool said. “Just like with any of us, if you have to wait to know something’s wrong, it can be very stressful.

"If we can help them build a strong foundation, we can set them up for success in their future.”

This article originally appeared on The Daily American: Early Intervention Program helps local children meet their growth goals