Bucks County IU 22: Early Intervention as Stairway to Learning

A profile in the PAIU series, "Early Intervention Changes Lives:
Pennsylvania Families and the Intermediate Units that Serve Them"

Brody and Cameron Collins: Surviving and thriving
Five-year-old Brody and Cameron Collins were born premature. Their early years were marked by threats to their lives and development. Brody had a tracheotomy and was on a ventilator. Cameron nearly lost his vision, endured eating problems, and is diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

At age 3, the boys exited Infant-Toddler Early Intervention and entered Bucks IU 22 Early Intervention. With survival assured, attention turned to their learning and development. Cameron got feeding therapy. Brody learned to speak after surgery on his vocal cords.

Bucks IU 22 Early Intervention staffers know how to spark a conversation with the boys by talking about favorite things like trains – “things that would have been a fight a year ago,” says their mom, Melissa Collins. Both boys love their Early Intervention learning therapist, who turns their daily challenges, such as Cameron’s fear of loud noises, into simple “social stories” about coping.

“I imagine there will soon be a social story about kindergarten,” says their mom.

The boys “balance each other out,” says Collins. Brody is the social butterfly, “like the mayor of his classroom.” The “crazy smart” Cameron has “an engineer mind,” even reengineering toy trains.

Their mother will always be nurse and therapist, but with Early Intervention, she is freer to “be a parent and let the therapists help.” Though her boys are ready for kindergarten, she hates to part from the people of Bucks IU 22 Early Intervention.

“It’s become a family,” she says. “We’ve grown so close, and I trust them so much with my children.”

Bucks IU 22: Reinventing Early Intervention
“If anything is possible, what does it look like?”

That’s the question before the early childhood professionals of Bucks County IU 22. In 2015, the IU won the contract to provide Head Start to county families, and the initiative prompted a reworking of early childhood education that more fully incorporates Early Intervention.

The effort leverages resources and partnerships to assure children with and without disabilities the best possible early learning experiences. Early Intervention services will continue in homes, preschools, and child care facilities, but there is also a vision to create early childhood centers offering the full continuum of services under one roof, says Dr. Deborah G. Lock, assistant director of special education.

The centers will bring together children of all abilities, “so our 3- to 5-year-olds aren’t seeing differences,” says Lock. “They’re seeing similarities from the get-go, and we won’t have the same conversations later on in life about kids that are different. They’re just our friends.”

The initiative calls on early childhood teachers and therapists to help craft the vision of early childhood services. Staff professional development will be enhanced with training in collaboration, Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) and assessment, “to make sure our students are moving forward, and that we are looking at their progress on a very regular basis and doing it in teams,” says Lock. We know that we can best serve our students when we do it together as a professional learning community.

The task can be complicated, but it’s also “very exciting” because it will strengthen services in Early Intervention and all early childhood programs, says Lock. “It might be a little messy, but it’s work worth doing.”

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