Education Network Journal - Vol 1, July 1998


By Ann T. Levene

About The Author:

Ann T. Levene is employed at the Preschool for Autism at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida as Coordinator for parent support, education and training. Ann is actively involved in the autism community as a board member for the local Autism Society, the Family Network on Disabilities, and is a consultant with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of Miami. She has played an integral role with the Palm Beach County School District as a consultant for various projects for the special education department. In her district, Ann was active in the Early Intervention Program as the Parent Resource Organization Representative for three years. She worked closely with families of young children with special needs and she was active on the local and State level developing policies and procedures for Early Intervention Programs in the State of Florida. Ann has a seven-year-old son with special needs.

After hearing the diagnosis of your child, often you hear nothing beyond that. Many parents have described the feeling of going completely deaf after the diagnosis is given. "Nothing else was processed, you go completely numb," shared one mom whose 2 year old son was diagnosed with autism. "You hear the diagnosis, and all of your dreams, hopes and plans for your child have been taken away with the utterance of one word. All in the matter of seconds. Your family's life is forever changed!"

And so the journey begins into a world of unfamiliar terms, new faces and tough challenges. However, this journey does not have to be taken alone. Families need to know that there are choices, resources and support. The earlier families find the resources and begin networking with other families with children with similar disabilities, the easier the journey becomes.

Starting early intervention is paramount to your child reaching his/her optimal level. From birth to age three, the physical, emotional and intellectual development takes place that lays the groundwork for future learning. Without early help, infants and toddlers who need an extra hand may fall behind unnecessarily. Problems that are mild in the beginning become more challenging later on.

Families need to find out whether the area in which they live has a state mandated early intervention program for children birth to three. To access this information quickly,

families should call their local school district and ask for the Child Find Department. This department will be able to connect you with the right people to help locate the best services for your child. And just as important, parents should try to locate a community parent group in their area. The networking with other families can play a crucial role in helping to find resources and services in your community. Calling your local hospital (education department) to request information on support groups is one suggestion. Keeping an eye in your local newspaper for information on groups can be another avenue. Ask your physician and use the Internet to further your search for information on your child's disability, and community parent groups in your area.

The earlier parents recognize, identify and start intervention with their child the easier it will be for the whole family to begin coping, growing and learning together. And believe it or not, that journey will become an adventure with ups and downs, joys and pains, but most importantly it will build strength within the family, and family members will become experts at meeting their child's immediate and long-term needs. Better decisions are made together.  


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