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Life Lessons: Make the First Five Count

Parents of young children often wonder if their child is developing just the way he or she is supposed to. It can be confusing for parents to sort all of this out, especially for families with a number of other challenges, but there's a program in the Lehigh Valley to help parents.

We know that the early years of a child's life are so important but what if a child has a delay but it's overlooked? The program Make the First Five Count is run by Easterseals, and it works to try to make sure this never happens.

Melissa Vandever is a child development specialist who heads up with program. She has done hundreds of these screenings of children identified by the program. It's designed to find kids who need intervention and then get the right services in place.

Research shows the first five years of life are critical for brain development and so if a child has delay, a disability or a social/emotional problem, getting help fast is so important. 

"They're finding that the kids who don't get the services before age five, it's harder and it takes longer to get them in a better place," Vandever said.

Easter Seals works with different agencies to find children to screen but the program is open to any child. Parents can go online to fill out an assessment form. 

"It's free and it's also a way of making you aware of what your child can do," Vandever said.

For parents, it's a way to get information and help if necessary.

"It's nice for parents to be able to see what their children should be doing and where they should be going so that they can take the time and maybe work on fine motor skills or work on communications skills or gross motor skills so that they are kindergarten ready because really that's the most important thing: making these kids ready and making these parents aware so they know what's expected," Vandever said.

To date, more than 600 children have been screened and more than 160 have been identified as having a possible developmental delay or disability and provided with follow-up services, usually through the County Early Intervention Department, Intermediate Units, and other youth and family agencies.

In addition, more than 200 children have been monitored, given activities parents could work on at home and then re-screened to see if the interventions are having the desired impact.

The hope is that the program can find more funding to expand it's reach into Berks County and the Greater Lehigh Valley areas.

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