Program helps kids with speech, physical delays
By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000
Atoddler calls out in the wee hours of the morning. We wish we could roll over and go back to sleep. But when Connie Kent heard her daughter, Jade, call "Mom-eee" before dawn, the wake-up call couldn't have been welcomed more.
"She wasn't really saying anything before, so "Mommy' was a big deal to me," said Kent, who adopted Jade from China in May 1999. When Jade was 18 months old, she wasn't walking or talking much. Kent took her to All Children's Hospital's early intervention program for therapy and, six months later, Jade is making progress.
Getting help for any kind of developmental delay as early as possible makes a big difference in a child's outcome. But many parents may not know their child has delays. And few realize there are programs that will pay for part or even all of the necessary therapy regardless of income level.
Of the 466 children going to All Children's Hospital for speech and language, physical or occupational therapy, some were born prematurely or with birth defects.
But most children there "are perfectly typical births," said Therese Montanari, manager of the hospital's Speech-Language Pathology program. "They're just normal kids and their parents thought they ought to be talking more by now. Most parents will say: "My other child talked earlier,' or "My preschool teacher suggested we call.' "
All Children's screens an average of 69 children a month for developmental delays. Only two or three of those children are determined to be fine. The rest need some type of therapy.
"Most of the time, parents just have a gut feeling that something's not okay," said Judi Vitucci, director of All Children's early intervention program. "Ninety-five percent of the time, the parents are right."
These numbers should not scare parents into rushing their child over to All Children's, because he may be saying two fewer words than his older brother did at the same age. But Vitucci encourages anyone with any concerns to call the early intervention program. Nurses talk to many parents every day and help them decide over the phone if their child should come in for an evaluation.
"Just because you call doesn't mean you come in for screening," she said.
Betsy Cureton was concerned that her 2-year-old daughter, Carolyn, wasn't saying two-word phrases by her 2-year check-up. The pediatrician suggested a screening for Carolyn, and the child soon started speech and language therapy twice a week.
"She loved it. She absolutely loved it," Cureton said. "She would wake up in the morning and want to know if it was "speech time' yet."
Therapists use toys, bubbles, photo albums, kazoos, crafts and much more to teach children. After just a year of therapy, Carolyn, now 4, was completely caught up if not ahead of her age group for speech and language use.
If you want your child to be screened, you can set up an appointment at any of various screening points across the state or plan to attend free screening days scheduled throughout the year at area churches and hospitals. (See schedule below.)
If your insurance won't cover the evaluation or therapy, a federal program known as Part C funding will provide 100 percent coverage for children from birth to 3 years old. Part B funding through the school system pays for children 3-18.
"Part C (and B) is designed to be a safety net to catch those middle-income folks who don't have Medicaid," Vitucci said. Medicaid will cover most types of early intervention therapy, but most private insurance won't. A half-hour therapy session without any insurance or financial help costs about $120.
All Children's is one of 16 sites statewide that will help parents understand Part C funding and the services available for their children. There are about 120 Part C providers offering a variety of therapies.
Along with Part C and Part B funding from the federal government, some civic service organizations offer financial aid. The Scottish Rite Masons dedicate all their philanthropic work to children with speech and language problems. The amount they pay is based on a family's income and expenses. A session could end up costing $5 or $50. The Sertoma organization focuses on hearing and will help finance hearing aids for children.
Parents are relieved to find out there is financial help out there for developmentally delayed children. But the fact that their child needs help can be hard to deal with at first.
"It's very difficult for people to lose that concept of the perfect baby even if it is something temporary that's wrong," Vitucci said.
Parents have to believe in the therapy because they are the key to their child's progress and development.
"One hour of therapy is not going to do these kids a lot of good if the parents aren't continuing what we're doing at home," Montanari said.
Like many parents, Cureton watched therapy sessions through a two-way mirror. Her twin boys started speech and language therapy when they were 18 months old. She used the therapists' tactics at home. She reminded Corey to cough before words like "cat" or "Carolyn" to help him make that hard "c" sound. For Casey, she placed her fingers on his lips to remind him to bring them together to form words that start with "b" or "p."
The hardest thing about the therapy is that it's over, Cureton said. Her boys, now 21/2, finished last month.
"They keep saying "Speech? Speech?' because they want to go," she said.
To schedule an evaluation of your child or discuss any developmental concerns, call 892-6701 for children under 3. For older children, call 462-1588.
A free screening for children under 3 is scheduled for Nov. 10 at Pasadena Community Church, 112 70th St. S, St. Petersburg. For children 3-5, there are screenings scheduled for Tuesday at the American Baptist Church, 2812 Eighth St. N, St. Petersburg and on Nov. 28 at Seminole United Methodist Church, 5400 Seminole Blvd., Seminole.
-- You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at Oliviachar@aol.com; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
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