Early Intervention program changes lives in Summit County | ParkRecord.com

Early Intervention program changes lives in Summit County

The program improves outcomes for children with disabilities

Jackie Swan, a therapist involved with the Summit County Health Departments early intervention program for children with developmental delays or disabilities, plays with Ridge Hirschi. The program serves dozens of families throughout Summit and Wasatch counties.

Susie Bond can't think of a more rewarding job.

For 15 years, she has been the coordinator of the Summit County Health Department's early intervention program. She and her staff work with children ages 1 to 3 born with developmental delays or disabilities, providing them with therapy and services to help improve their outcomes before they enter special needs programs in public schools or daycare programs.

"It's very rewarding," she said. "I love it when I'm shopping at Smith's, and some lady chases me down the aisle and says, 'Look at my son. Do you remember you saw him six years ago? He couldn't walk, and look at him now.' We get that a lot."

Bond said children the program serves include those born prematurely or born with disorders, such as Down Syndrome and autism. Often, through working with therapists the program provides, the children make vast progress and develop abilities they may never have otherwise if they begin therapy at an older age.

"It is absolutely essential," Bond said. "There are studies that show for every dollar spent in early intervention, they save $7 in special education programs later in life. A lot of times, we'll get in and remediate the deficit and discharge them, and they enter kindergarten as a typically developing child. It kind of blows your mind sometimes."

Part of the reason the program is so successful is because it teaches the families of the children to provide some level of treatment themselves. The therapy typically takes place in a family's home, and therapists make sure to give parents as much information as possible in order to help them treat their children.

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"We're really training the parents to be rock stars with these kids," she said. "We've got the best families that follow through with things we ask them to do. Like, if their child needs physical therapy, we encourage them to video tape the therapist, so they know where to put their hands and the positions to use. Then they can duplicate those services every day."

Bond said that the program has proven essential in Summit and Wasatch counties. The communities the program serves are small, but there are always families in need. She's continually trying to spread the word so more families discover the program.

"It's important because they don't need to run to Salt Lake to see a physical therapist or an occupational therapist or go to Primary Children's (Hospital)," she said. "They can stay in their homes and receive the therapies that they need. It keeps our children in the community, where they belong."

For more information on the program, visit summitcountyhealth.org.