WILMINGTON — Marnie Reed’s second daughter, Alex, was born loose-limbed, with folds on the inside of her eyes and with ears that were small and set low. A week later, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
Reed went down a spiral of doubt. Literature on Down Syndrome said things like “most can feed themselves,” which she took to mean that Alex wouldn’t be able to.
“It’s limiting,” she said. “It’s already set limits to what my kid can do.”
During a particularly bad “pity party,” Reed said, “I’m just really sad that Alex can’t be more like you” to her then-three-year-old daughter Brittany.
“Well, she is a girl just like me,” Brittany said.
“That changed my whole perspective,” Reed said.
Now, Alex received her diploma this summer and is looking for a job. One day, she may get to live on her own.
“I remember when Alex was born just thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. She’ll never live on her own. She’ll never leave this house. Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’” Reed said. “Now that she’s older, I think, ‘Oh my gosh. She may leave this house. What am I going to do?”
Reed attributes a lot of Alex’s success to Early Intervention, the predecessor to Help Me Grow, a county-by-county program that connects families to resources for children with disabilities.
“Alex is doing great, and I know that it had to do with early intervention,” Reed said.
Help Me Grow is also Ohio’s “best kept secret,” according to Reed, a coordinator and intake and referral specialist for Clinton County’s branch of Help Me Grow.
Help Me Grow’s primary responsibility, Reed said, is to act as a centralized location that refers families to resources. She stressed that Help Me Grow is voluntary and non-punitive.
Its two major programs are early intervention, which is provided by the Clinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and home visiting, which is provided by the Clinton County Health Department and FRS Counseling in Hillsboro. There is also a federal home visiting program, Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting.
Home visiting, Reed said, includes regularly scheduled visits, a developmentally appropriate curriculum, a family plan. The visits also hope to increase access to prenatal care, stop smoking in the household and improve access to medical services, knowledge of child development, community connectedness, home environment, parent-child interactions and family support.
Reed encouraged any new parent to consider home visiting and to call Help Me Grow by dialing 937-382-5899. The home visiting program, she said, would be beneficial to any new parent, and a parent can always choose to drop out of the program if they feel confident raising their children.
Early intervention offers a host of services, the most common of which are speech therapy and special instruction by a developmental disabilities expert.
“If I am a parent, and I have a concern, even if it’s slight and even if nobody else supports it, if the parent has a concern, that’s enough to make a call,” Reed said. “If we do the screenings and the screenings are fine, we’re happy to tell them that. So, it’s kind of a no-fail situation.”
Reed said the most commonly noticed signs that early intervention may be needed are sensory related.
“Sensory needs can look like the kid that’s always bouncing up and down, and he likes to crash into things,” Reed said. “They’re looking for ways to receive big stimuli, and the only way they can do it is to crash into things.”
An occupational therapist may be recommended for those families, who, in turn, may recommend parenting practices that help the child receive large stimuli and then calm down.
“It comes up pretty often, but it looks like different things,” Reed said.
A common sign for those who may need speech therapy is an aversion to different foods, according to Reed.
“They may have low muscle tone, and (soft foods) are the easiest thing for them to eat,” she said. “So they’re never going to try to move onto something more difficult. But when you think about how many muscles you use to form words, if you’re not exercising them when they’re small and eating, it could be difficult to communicate later.”
All services provided directly by Help Me Grow are delivered in the family’s home, which, according to research cited by Reed, is more effective.
Parents who want to see about enrolling in Help Me Grow for early intervention can expect a home visit from a service coordinator. The service coordinator will then try to determine the family’s eligibility and assess the child and family. If there is a need for services and the family is eligible, an individual family service plan is developed and begins within 30 days.
It takes about 45 days for the home visit, eligibility determination and assessments to occur.
The Clinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Reed said, certifies special instructors and attempts to pick the one best expert for all of a family’s need instead of finding different experts for different conditions.
Reed said she slowly came around to the single-expert, or primary service provider, model. She said it more actively attempts to educate and encourage parents about care for their child.
Help Me Grow receives funding from Ohio and the U.S. governments but also in-kind donations of office space, fiscal services and supervision. Reed said Help Me Grow also receives a United Way grant that helps with transporting parents and children.
The U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) obligates Ohio to provide early intervention services to babies and infants up to three years old. Ohio further chooses to fund a home visiting program for first-time parents and expectant parents.
IDEA requires Clinton County’s Help Me Grow branch to connect parents with needs for any of its services to a service provider, even if one isn’t in the county.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.