Colonial IU 20: Early Intervention Takes a Comprehensive Approach

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

The Makenna Benner story: Achieving independence
Makenna Benner is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. By age 3, when she entered Colonial IU 20 Early Intervention, Makenna was still learning to walk, talk, and sit up.'

“Early Intervention is really helping her to become the girl that she is,” says her mom, Ashley Benner. “It’s really opening her up. She’s starting to babble more. She’s in a gait trainer.”

Makenna’s therapists “connected with her right away.” They use the things Makenna enjoys to encourage growth and independence, such as the visually based Picture Exchange Communication System that lets her choose which parts of “Wheels on the Bus” she can sing.

“She gets to be in charge,” says her mom. “Music’s her love.”

Benner herself is an Infant-Toddler Early Intervention speech therapist, but she recognized the need for extra support and direction that preschool Early Intervention provides.

Early Intervention, she says, is “the best thing we can offer any of our kids,” preparing them for school and successful lives.

“Whether they’re slightly delayed or largely delayed, they need this help,” she says. “They need a little extra. It just makes them flourish, and they’re such amazing kids.”

Colonial IU 20 Early Intervention: Collaborating at every step
Colonial IU 20 Early Intervention runs on collaboration. Wherever a child is served, IU 20 Early Intervention staffers work with everyone who engages with that child every day, for richer results and stronger kindergarten readiness.

In Head Start classrooms, co-teaching assures that Early Intervention and Head Start teachers plan together, share duties, and address the individual needs of all children, of all abilities.

“The kids are more successful when they come to kindergarten,” says Supervisor of Special Education, Early Intervention Becky Eller. “They’ve had more experience, they’ve had more language, and they might need less special education services when they reach a school-age program.”

IU 20 saw enrollment of Early Intervention students in inclusive settings – the kinds of neighborhood preschools where parents often want to send their children – rise from 50 percent in 2006 to 65 percent by 2016. Support from Early Intervention gives preschool teachers the skills to educate children with disabilities.

“They feel confident the next time when a child with disabilities comes,” Eller says. “They feel comfortable to take more kids, and it just grows and grows and grows.”

Now, IU 20 Early Intervention is applying a state grant to strengthening collaboration to with families. Parents will be offered support and guidance in everything from reading at home to creating sensory activities with dollar-store finds.

“It’s about working on the students’ goals and objectives and things they need to get ready for kindergarten,” says Eller. “Family engagement ensures that the same enrichment children get at school continues in the home, which only helps benefit them and their overall development.”

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