by Victor R. Martinez from The El Paso Times:
Gaby Escobar knows first hand how important the It-Takes-a-Village concept is.
In this case, "the village" consists of speech/language, occupational and physical therapists from Early Childhood Intervention — or ECI.
Escobar's two-year-old daughter Analuisa, who was born with Down syndrome, has been a part of the program since she was a few months old.
"I could not imagine raising her without this help," she said. "I'm very proud of the work all the team — the therapist, the family and Analuisa — have put in. I am very grateful for all the help and love that they have shown us. They have become our family."
ECI is a statewide program for families with children, birth to 3-years-old, with disabilities and developmental delays.
ECI supports families to help their children reach their potential through developmental services. Services are provided by a variety of local agencies and organizations across Texas.
"She has had a speech and language pathologist since she was born," Escobar said. "She can say about 17 words and 27 more in sign language. Her first words where 'papa.' She's in love with her papa."
There are approximately 1,300 families in El Paso who utilize ECI services.
"This program falls under IDEA Part C which is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act," said Jennifer Hickey, the ECI Child Find Administrator. "It doesn't matter if you have or don't have insurance or if you do or don't have Medicaid, we help all kinds of families."
Eligibility is determined by a team of at least two professionals from different disciplines and is based on a medical diagnosed condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay, auditory or visual impairment and a child who has a developmental delay of at least 25 percent which affects functioning in one or more areas of development, including cognition, communication, gross or fine motor, social-emotional and adaptive/self-help.
"Health care professionals are mandated under state and federal regulations to refer kids to ECI," Hickey said. "I work real closely with all the perinatal intensive care units to make sure that babies who are eligible for our program find out about us. It can save a family a lot of money."
Hickey calls the "team concept" the best part of the program.
"There is a whole comprehensive team just for Analuisa, depending on her needs," she said. "We could go to another home visit, 30 minutes from now and they might be getting different services."
Teresa Gomez, her speech/language pathologist, sees Analuisa three times a month, Grace Lugo, her occupational therapist and Janice Molina, the physical therapist, come to Analuisa's home once a week.
Service coordinator Norma Mendoza makes sure the family connects with other services they might need.
"Everything we do has a purpose," Gomez said. "The blowouts (foil horns) help her coordination and her strength in her oral cavities so that she will be able to make sounds. Sometimes the muscle tone is very hypotonic so they need to exercise it to be able to maintain a smile. Before she could not maintain a smile, now she smiles wide and bright."
Just like Analuisa's family, Gomez shares in her accomplishments.
"I'm extremely proud," Gomez said. "Sometimes we have to teach parents to appreciate every single thing, even the tiny stuff because that's improvement and it means that we are moving forward and that's what matters. No matter how small or how big the improvement, it's progress. Sometimes the parents are looking at the big picture and that could be too overwhelming. Parents need to appreciate the small steps that take them up the big mountain."
Hickey said each family is special and the ECI's goal is to help every child meet their full potential.
"We gauge success by each family that we touch," she said. "We know that Analuisa is going to be doing everything all the other kids are going to be doing, it's just that it's going to take her a little longer."
She said what makes ECI unique is all the therapy is done at the patient's home.
"That's what makes us so different," she said. "You are not physically taking your child somewhere where they are going to provide the therapy. Everybody who is coming out here is teaching mom what she can do to help her baby on a daily bases. If mom knows how to do the therapeutic interventions, she can work on it when we're not here. Babies learn best from people they know and in their natural environment."
ECI can help•Early Childhood Intervention — or ECI — focuses on working with the child and family in their natural environment. Research shows that growth and development are most rapid in the early years of life.
•Eligibility is based on a medical diagnosed condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay, auditory or visual impairment and a child who has a developmental delay of at least 25 percent which affects functioning in one or more areas of development, including cognition, communication, gross or fine motor, social-emotional and adaptive/self-help.
•ECI provides evaluations and assessments, at no cost to families, to determine eligibility and need for services. Families and professionals work as a team to plan appropriate services based on the unique needs of the child and family.
•ECI asks families who can afford to do so, to share in the cost of services. The amount a family pays for ECI services is determined using a sliding fee scale and is based on family size and income after allowable deductions. No child and family will be turned away because of an inability to pay.
•Information: 534-4324, elpasoeci.org or facebook.com/ElPasoECI.