In October, 2011 the National Head Start Association premiered the “One Window of Opportunity” animation, sparking a discussion about how Head Start itself is a window of opportunity for children and families–and how critical it is to keep that window open in a time of growing poverty and need. As part of the Keep the Window Open campaign, Head Start parents, alumni, staff, volunteers and citizens have been invited to share their stories. We’re delighted to bring those stories to you — you’ll find more here regularly, and we hope you’ll choose to share your own.
(Please note: except for minor typographical editing, stories appear as titled and written by their authors.)
Head Start programs across the country provide disability screening and support services to families. Here are two stories of how children with language delays got the help they needed to enter kindergarten ready to learn.
Parent Story: Terry Family Success Story
by April Terry
My oldest daughter went through the Head Start program 6 years ago. Being my first child, I wasn’t really sure how the program worked, other than my daughter got on the bus 4 days a week, went to school for a few hours and came home.
We would attend the family nights, the parent meetings, and some parenting classes, but other than that I wasn’t aware of the other many ways I could be involved. We moved away halfway through the year, out of state, and were unable to find preschool for my daughter. Our financial situation had changed drastically, and we were over-qualified for other Head Start programs, but we still didn’t have the money to afford to pay for private pay preschool. So she stayed home where I worked with her. Luckily, my oldest daughter doesn’t have a problem with learning, is very naturally smart, and things come easy to her. So when she started kindergarten, she was pretty much ready.
There is a very different story for my 2nd daughter Lauryn. When Lauryn reached about a year old, she still wasn’t talking much. She was not saying many words, but she talked a great deal. NO ONE could understand her but me. Half the time her own dad couldn’t understand her. We spent many hours trying to decipher and translate what she was saying to family members. She mumbled a lot, and her words were garbled. My oldest daughter was speaking in full sentences by the time she was 1, so this was a big difference for me. I know people always tell you not to compare your children, but this was very hard to do. It was such a drastic difference that I started to wonder if something was wrong.
I took Lauryn to the doctor, and during her well child exams I always brought up to her provider that I was concerned about her speech. Many times my oldest daughter was with me, and when the provider would ask Lauryn a question, Ashley (the oldest) would always answer for her. The provider kept chalking it up to the oldest talking for her, and assured me it was just a normal part of sibling interaction. Because Ashley spoke for her, the provider just assured me this is why Lauryn wasn’t talking.
Two years went by, and this was ALWAYS a concern for me. I always brought it up, and was always given the same answer. It was because her sister spoke for her. Around this time, I enrolled Lauryn in the ECEAP program at our local school, which is our state’s version of Head Start. She had turned 3 and was eligible. She went through the preschool screening, and during part of that, was interviewed by the Speech Therapist. The therapist noticed a delay in her, and noticed that she had a hard time pronouncing certain syllables. This was put in her file, and Lauryn started school in the fall of 2007.
This video was taken of Lauryn around the time she started preschool for the first time at age 3. She is singing a song, and out of all the words, I can only identify a few.
Her teachers paid attention to the mumbling and the inattention she had. Because I had other people observing her besides family, they were noticing a delay in speech as well. Her sister wasn’t around during preschool time, so it was much easier to see there was a problem. Lauryn talked A LOT but nobody could understand her. I could, but it was because I was at home with her, and learned her language. The teachers brought their concerns to my attention, and I told them I had thought something wasn’t right for a long time. The ECEAP program provided a meeting with a Speech Therapist and we proceeded with an evaluation and an IEP. Lauryn was referred to a hearing specialist as a precautionary step. My doctor had NEVER ordered a referral or an evaluation. I was laughed at when I brought my concerns to them. Through the referral from the ECEAP speech therapist, we discovered at a hearing test that Lauryn was 75% deaf in one ear, and 25% in the other!! My daughter was almost 4 years old by the time this was discovered!
The specialist explained that the reason Lauryn wasn’t speaking correctly was because she had a massive amount of fluid on her ears and suffered from Eustachian Tube Dysfunction, a genetic problem that causes the tubes to not grow properly and drain fluid from the ears. She was not speaking correctly because to her, everyone sounded like they were underwater. She was just relaying it back the way she heard it. Mumbled. The doctors assured me it was an easy fix. Lauryn underwent surgery, and had tubes placed in her ears. She returned back to school, I informed the ECEAP staff what we had discovered, and they re-evaluated Lauryn’s IEP to include Speech Therapy, for at least 20 mins a week, if not more. She continued with her Speech Therapy, and we saw great strides in her speech, and her education.
During the summer of 2009, I walked in to our local Head Start to apply for a slot. This was the same Head Start my oldest daughter attended, so I was familiar with the staff. Many of the same teachers and faces, I had dealt with 3 years prior. I inquired about the waiting list, because of missing the registration deadlines I knew there had to be one. I was told that I could put Lauryn on the waiting list, but through a conversation, I learned that were completely full except for one spot they were holding for a student with a disability, or IEP. When I let the staff know that my child already had an IEP in place, she was placed in the last spot for that classroom. This was about 2 weeks before classes were to start. It was a complete godsend, and a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time that she was blessed with this slot in the Elma Head Start program. I was so excited for her to attend! Lauryn continued with her Speech Therapy for the duration of that school year, and the combination of that therapy, and getting her hearing finally under control, today, you could probably not even tell that she once had a Speech Delay. She can write her name, knows all of her ABC’s and 123’s, and is now a 2nd grader who reads and writes at the top of her class.
Lauryn’s IEP was re-evaluated and with assistance from our home school Speech Therapist when she started Kindergarten, and it was determined that an IEP was no longer a necessity for her, and that she was right on target for her benchmarks. If it were not for the help I received in diagnosing my daughter with a disability, I fear she would have started school unable to hear, afraid of learning, with people not being able to understand her. It would have probably taken another 3 years longer than it did, and that was already 3 years too long.
Instead of starting Kindergarten with a disability or a delay, we were able to fix the problem before she became another statistic. We were able to save her school district the financial capacity it would have taken from their Special Ed department, after she started school that fall.
Lauryn is now a completely well adjusted, smart, TALKATIVE, little girl, who started kindergarten in the fall of 2010 with no barriers to her education. She can hear and now she can speak. Lauryn got the HEAD START she needed so badly. I can’t imagine if she wouldn’t have had this opportunity, where she would be at in her education right now.
I have learned that with the right tools in hand, I could be the voice for my daughter. I had known all along that something wasn’t right with her. The staff at all of the centers Lauryn attended listened to me, and helped me figure out how to take action. With the tools I received from being a parent in the Head Start program, I learned to not doubt myself and my instincts.
The education and information I have received as a parent in this program have increased my knowledge tenfold, of simple everyday life things. I have learned how to be a better mother, a more knowledgeable adult, and most importantly an involved parent in my children’s lives.
This is just one of my success stories from the Washington State Head Start and ECEAP programs.
NHSA would love to hear your story! Find out more about creating a video or writing a testimonial at www.KeeptheWindowOpen.org. You can also find get updates about the project by following us on twitter at @HeadStartWindow.