Finding His Voice

Yanira met Abraham when he was a silly, smiley 8-month-old. His parents, Delmi and Rudy, had enrolled the family in Allies’ home-based Early Head Start (EHS) program, where once a week, a home educator would turn their living room, backyard, or wherever they were learning that day into a classroom. As the family’s teacher and main source of support, Yanira would bring learning games for Abraham plus tools and lessons for Delmi and Rudy to help support Abraham’s growth. Her first task, though, was to assess Abraham’s development to make sure he was on track.

Without regular screenings, roughly 70% percent of children who are struggling developmentally will not be identified before age 5. Early intervention for these children is critical; by age 17, one in six children across the country will have one or more developmental disability. In Yanira’s assessment of Abraham, she found he was struggling with gross motor development – he couldn’t pull himself up to stand like other kids his age. Left unaddressed, the delay could prevent him from being able to navigate his environment and develop other lifelong skills. She suggested Allies’ Disabilities Coordinator evaluate him to determine whether he’d need extra services to support his growth.

Abraham’s parents turned down the offer. The stigma around developmental disabilities, plus a common lack of knowledge about child development, often keeps parents from agreeing to evaluations or services for their kids. Yanira, on the other hand, knew how important it was to intervene early. She pushed on with teaching Rudy and Delmi about child development, and began incorporating more activities to promote Abraham’s ability to move. He loved spinning the wheels on his stroller, so Yanira turned it upside down to prompt him to pull himself up. She taught Delmi to massage Abraham’s legs and encouraged the family to take walks in the park. Soon, Abraham was pulling himself up, then taking wobbly steps, and eventually walking on his own.

While Abraham had caught up to his peers in physical movement, he still didn’t speak as much as other 13-month-olds. He was also aggressive toward them; physical communication was the only way he could express himself. This time, when Yanira recommended an evaluation, Delmi and Rudy had no second thoughts. Months of learning about child development and watching Abraham’s progress told them it was critical to act now.

“Once his parents had the knowledge,” Yanira said, “it made a big difference.”

Allies’ Disabilities Coordinator evaluated Abraham and helped him get services to address a speech delay. On top of his weekly visits with Yanira, he began working with a speech therapist at a school for children with individualized family service plans (IFSPs), or plans that detail services and goals, while Allies staff continued to help Rudy and Delmi learn to support Abraham’s development at home. His parents started talking to him more, and reading to him every day. With all the extra support, Abraham began stringing words together, and using sentences, rather than hitting, to communicate his feelings.

It wasn’t only Abraham who was growing, though. When Delmi first enrolled in the program, she told Yanira she felt lonely. Other than her husband, she had no support network.

“You’re my only friend,” she told Yanira.

Social isolation is common among parents of young children. It’s a risk factor for child abuse, and like chronic stress, it can also lead to long-term health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Yanira encouraged Delmi to bring Abraham to socialization, a monthly gathering for Allies’ home-based EHS children and their families to play and learn together. Delmi got to know the parents of Abraham’s peers, and like her son, she started talking about her experiences. She had been lonely before she came to Allies, she told them. She didn’t know much about child development. She hadn’t realized the potential consequences of letting a developmental delay go unaddressed.

Now, as Delmi watches Abraham run around the playground, chatting about Iron Man and his favorite foods in Spanish and English, the family’s growth is unmistakable. The energetic 3-year-old is even teaching English words to his monolingual mom, who’s heading back to school for ESL classes so she can better advocate for her son and for her herself.

Now, both Abraham and Delmi speak with confidence.

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