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Live United: Early intervention is key in identifying needs in children

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


When I was 18 months old, I got the measles. My baby book has the recordings of my high fever over a few days. Back then, we lived in a small rural Kansas town. Having children now, I can’t imagine the worry my parents had back then for me. I’ve lived that worry many times over the past eight years with both of my children.

I came home, but life changed drastically. Eventually my parents realized I wasn’t responding as a normal toddler would. They handed me over to my godparents who worked in special education. The family story goes that my godmother waited until I was hungry, promised me special treats and then went into the kitchen to bang pots and pans. I didn’t come running. After the official testing, they knew that I was deaf, the high fever having damaged the nerves in my ears.

I always said I was born into the right family: a grandmother who taught preschool, godparents in special education and parents experienced in both the medical and disability field. Immediately, I was given language the only way they knew how — visually. The entire house quickly became labeled with pictures of signs. The joke is that even my cat was labeled. With the written words beside the signs, I quickly learned how to read at 2 years old.

I was given opportunity. My mother spent her days shuttling me back and forth. I went to hearing preschool in the morning. I went to a deaf preschool in the afternoon. Three days a week, I went to speech therapy at our local university. If there was something available that would further my chances, it happened. It wasn’t always easy for a family that often struggled to make ends meet, but it was viewed as an essential need, not a want.

The drum I’m banging on today is early intervention. I firmly believe in the power of identifying needs early, of providing opportunities early. Programs such as our Imagination Library that put books in the hands of children enrich their lives and expand their knowledge. The Healthy Families program has shown to reduce child neglect and abuse, increase a family’s economic self-sufficiency and foster bonding relationships. The long-term outcomes are significant, resulting in a happier, healthier community overall.

Well-child visits are an essential part of this early intervention campaign. Our health care providers are highly trained to quickly identify areas that you might not have thought of. Even as an advocate with experience in the medical setting, I rely on the expertise of health care providers and educators to let me know if my children need speech therapy, or are walking slightly differently in a way that would alter their growth. COVID-19 changed many things. Suddenly, the doctor’s office is a potentially scary place to be if you’re not immediately sick. Schools face unique challenges. Masks present challenges and strong feelings and can hinder communication.

As an advocate, as a personal story teller, as a mama, I’m here to tell you it’s worth it. It was necessary to delay services for a few months. In recent weeks, my family has done our well child visits, our eye doctors and our dentists. Each time, we were screened, wore masks and social distanced. My son made friends with an employee who was going around and sanitizing all the doorknobs and railings. He felt like she was doing a great job keeping us safe, and informed her of this. In many ways, the pause button was hit. We’re returning to a new normal, one that includes extra precautions, different formats of delivery and new routines. It’s time to bring well-child visits and other preventative care back into the routine.

If you have a child in your life, I encourage you to call your health care provider and schedule a well child visit today, especially if you’ve ever had a niggling wonder about their development. If you’re concerned about the new safety routines, ask your provider about them. The unknown is scary, but together, we can find solutions for ways to keep ourselves safe and give our children the opportunities that they need for a happy, successful and healthy life.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.