CCIU’s Early Intervention making a big difference

Hunter and his parents together at home. If you are concerned about your child’s development contact the CCIU to set up an Early Intervention appointment today.

Hunter and his parents together at home. If you are concerned about your child’s development contact the CCIU to set up an Early Intervention appointment today.

DOWNINGTOWN — At age four, Hunter Graham did not speak. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was non-verbal. Now, two years later, he will attend kindergarten at Fern Hill Elementary School in West Chester thanks to Early Intervention services.

Hunter’s journey, though not over, has been an amazing one for his parents, Amy and Sean Graham. Amy said that her son might still be non-verbal today if not for the Early Intervention services provided by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) and the First Step program at the Arc of Chester County.

In August, Hunter will attend a regular kindergarten classroom while receiving autistic support services. He has been interacting with “typical peers” each week in his current preschool classroom so Amy is not worried about his transition into a mainstream classroom.

“He really came out of his shell (in that setting),” Amy said. 

“Hunter is an adorable, happy six-year-old boy with a very supportive family,” said Lorin Forcine, director of preschool services for The Arc of Chester County. “He has a great sense of humor and he often tells knock-knock jokes to his friends as well as his teachers and therapists.” 

When Hunter began attending Forcine’s class, he had limited speech and language skills and difficulty expressing his wants and needs. “He needed prompting to interact with his peers and to play with a variety of toys appropriately,” Forcine said. 

Being non-verbal, Hunter resorted to negative behaviors, such as hitting and biting, to communicate his desires and feelings. Hunter began receiving classroom services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and behavioral health services first in his home, at the CCIU and then at The Arc of Chester County. His mother noted that as Hunter started to speak and develop language, his aggressive behaviors subsided.

Hunter began attending an autistic support classroom in 2013. By the fall of 2014, he had made significant progress and was placed in Forcine’s classroom, which surrounded him with more peer models. 

The results have been amazing.

“Hunter has made tremendous progress during this time at The Arc,” said Forcine. “He is easily able to communicate his wants and needs, which has helped to ease transitions for him throughout the school day. Upon meeting someone new, he can be heard asking the person his or her name and introducing himself, as well as introducing familiar people to each other.” 

In addition to language skills, Hunter is able to play with a variety of toys, interact with his classmates, and go into a typical mainstream daycare once a week. He is also reading words and short stories.

Some of Hunter’s favorite activities at school are show-and-tell and “Mr. Light.” “Mr. Light” is a social skills tabletop activity. “The activity incorporates language, prepositions, colors, counting and other cognitive skills,” explained Forcine. “It has been a joy to watch Hunter develop a variety of foundational skills that he is able to carry on into his next educational setting.”

At the beginning of his journey when Hunter was non-verbal, he was tested and evaluated at the CCIU. Amy said she had no anxiety about the evaluation process. “I was confident he was going to get the help he needed,” explained Amy. “The evaluation process allowed everyone to see the needs he had and he qualified for pretty much all of the services.” 

The CCIU contracts with the ARC to provide services for children in the First Step program. ARC therapists provide the actual services, but the CCIU serves as the educational representative. CCIU staff oversees the services and attends all of the IEP meetings.

Amy unabashedly recommends that other parents that find themselves in her position take their children to the CCIU to be evaluated if they have concerns. 

She said the child’s results far outweigh the parents’ fear.

“Just go for it,” said Amy. “It may be tough to swallow if your child is diagnosed (with special needs). You may be in denial but it can’t hurt to get your child into services. That’s why Hunter is doing as well as he is. He came to Early Intervention at such an early age.”

And, she added, the services are free.

“We’ve never gotten a bill for any of the services Hunter has received,” Amy said. 

“The staff is very devoted to him. They keep me informed of his goals, his development and the interventions in the classroom for behavior issues. I feel comfortable calling the classroom, and they’re open with me. They show me new skills to carry on in the home setting,” she said. “At this point, I don’t know what I’d do without this program.” 

Early Intervention consists of a variety of services and supports designed to help children who have developmental delays. Chester County offers Early Intervention services for children ages birth-to-3 years old and the CCIU offers Early Intervention for children ages 3-to-5 years old. Early Intervention services are provided at no charge for eligible children. Families contact Early Intervention services directly, often upon the recommendation from physicians, specialists or other caregivers. Early Intervention screenings are recommended as soon as possible.         

For more information, families can call 1-800-692-1100, ext. 5948, or 610-344-5948, ext. 5949, for Early Intervention (birth-through-three), or 484-237-5150 (3-to-5 years).

With the development of his speech abilities, Hunter received another big benefit. His mother said he began to interact and play with his younger brother for the very first time.

“All of a sudden he took off. I think all of this (ability) was in his brain,” she said. Thanks to Early Intervention services, “It finally came to the surface.”

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