SIKESTON - What if it's your child who has special needs?
Many parents have to face that reality along with all the questions and concerns that come with it. They find themselves searching for someone to talk to and connections that will lead them to information and contacts.
Families with special needs children in Missouri don't have to look far.
By coordinating local services and resources, The First Steps Program can give families a variety of options for meeting not only their children's developmental needs but the family's needs related to the child's development.
Some of the family-centered early intervention services include family training, counseling, home visits, special instruction and development therapy. Service coordination is also offered, as well as health, nursing and nutrition services.
"The reason that it's important to do these things when the child is very young is because intervention at that time will help the child make progress and hopefully help the child get closer to his true developmental level," said Vera Glueck, principal at the Sikeston Kindergarten Center.
Missouri's statewide system is a collaborative effort of families, the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education, health, mental health and social services.
Also actively involved are local interagency coordinating councils (LICCs) made up of individuals representing families, programs and agencies who coordinate services to young children with disabilities and their families on a local level.
LICC's activities includes developing brochures, making formal and informal presentations and conducting parenting fairs to increase awareness about First Step among families and potential referral sources.
Glueck, a member of the local and area LICC team, said the group is looking for people to join them. Needed are individuals who provide services for young children with developmental delays, parents of children who have developmental delays and other agencies who will work with First Steps and offer support to the family and child.
"I'm not saying that we don't welcome community members, but in order to serve on this council you probably want to have an interest in serving these young children because it's kind of time consuming," noted Glueck, who serves as treasurer.
"Our state-required council serves Scott County, New Madrid County, Mississippi County and Stoddard County so there are several counties in the Bootheel which go together to make up this council. Our main goal is to publicize information for parents so they know those services are there and also to help parents tap into these services."
Children who are eligible for early intervention services through First Steps are infants and toddlers from birth to age 3 who have at least a 50 percent delay in one of more of the areas of learning, communication, self-help, physical or social-emotional. Children diagnosed with a physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay also may participate in First Steps.
The program is supported by federal and state funds from the four agencies and by other local and private agencies throughout Missouri.
Locally, children are referred through a regional center for mental retardation or developmental disabilities such as the Sikeston Regional Center, or a bureau of special health care needs office in the state where the family lives. Referrals may be made by anyone concerned about a child's development.
As Glueck pointed out, First Steps helps families understand their child's special needs, obtain the help they need to deal with situations that could interfere with their child's growth and development and provide the best conditions for their child's growth and development.
"We pick up the child and start providing services when they turn three so we usually work with these families pretty closely. Occasionally a child will not require additional services after they've reached three so the intervention has caught them up so to speak," she said.
"And sometimes they're not able to catch up but they've had a good, solid background and The First Steps Program helps transition those children into the public school. When we get ready to work with them at three years old, we have lots of background and testing information to go on so that helps us to provide a good program for that child when he turns three. We try to work hand in hand with that program." For more information on First Steps or the local LICC, which meets from 9-11 a.m. the second Monday of the month at the Sikeston Regional Center, 112 Plaza Drive, contact Regina Gunter or Dennis Hahn at 1-800-497-4214 or Donna Neumeyer at 472-5300 or 1-800-497-4647.