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Early intervention program helps kids get ready for school

For most children, the first day of school is an exciting time to meet friends, play, learn and grow. Some children, however, have developmental problems that need to be overcome before they start pre-school or first grade.

Mildred Morgan, a services coordinator with Community Service Program, works with an early intervention program being held at the Theo Ratliff Activity Center in Demopolis.

“We are a program that works with children from birth to 3 who have a diagnosed medical disability or they test to have a developmental delay,” she said. “We look at the areas of cognitive, language, motor — which includes vision and hearing and adaptive, which is their self-help skills.

“At age 3, the children are transferred to our pre-school program or they may remain in a day-care setting, or their parents may choose to keep them at home until age 5. We provide 15 or 16 services to the families at no cost to them. We serve Marengo, Tuscaloosa and Greene counties as well as Sumter, Pickens, Bibb and Hall counties.”

Morgan said her program serves the more rural areas, and the Theo Ratliff Activity Center has provided a base for local children, who receive physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

“The purpose of our early intervention program is to get the children where they need to be by the time they start pre-school or other programs,” Morgan said, “to get them caught up to their age level.”

Morgan said the therapies vary, but usually involve play activities with the therapists.

“It’s a play-like atmosphere,” she said. “Shelby Hall is our speech therapist, and very often, playing pulls the language out. One parent told us that even though the child is not very talkative here, on the way home, he’s talking about the things they’ve done here today. The kids love the bubbles; the therapists bring in developmental toys.

“Amy Thomas is our physical therapist, and she works on ways of getting children to stand. In many cases, she is trying to get them to take steps where they have all the cool toys, and working on toning those muscles and helping them to walk.

“Carolyn Lee is our occupational therapist, and she works with fine-motor skills,” she said. “That’s anything from the waist up, like hand coordination, grasping, throwing and sometimes feeding issues.”

Those interested in taking part in the early intervention program should call toll-free 1 800 543-3098. That number takes referrals from parents, doctor’s offices or high-risk nurseries. Information can also be found online at www.theoratliffactivitycenter.org.