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Early intervention is key for children with developmental disabilities

Posted February 27, 2014
Updated February 28, 2014

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— Children with developmental disabilities can be successful in school, but experts say that success depends on early intervention with special programs. 

In Raleigh, experts at the Tammy Lynn Center, which serves nearly 400 families annually with children or adults who have developmental disabilities, are placing greater emphasis on what happens in the home. 

Robin McWilliam, a child development specialist who began working at the Tammy Lynn Center in the 1980s, said new research backs an approach which focuses on interventions away from developmental learning centers rather than in them.

"The interventions actually occur between our visits, not during visits," McWilliam said. "The important thing is identifying that there is some developmental need."

Therapists are now spending more time equipping parents to help their children advance. The combination of a classroom experience with continuing therapy at home has worked for 2-year-old Benjamin Turner. 

Benjamin's older brother has autism, so his parents kept a closer eye on his development. 

"I knew Benjamin didn't have autism, but I knew his language needed to catch up," Sara Turner, Benjamin's mother, said. "He was evaluated and found to have a language delay at 18 months."

Jeana Ellis and Erin Garrett help Benjamin and other kids like him for two hours a week, preparing them for preschool. 

"A lot of kids come to us needing to grow their social skills and help reduce their anxiety," Garrett, a developmental therapist, said. 

Turner said Benjamin has improved since he's come to the center. 

"His language has progressed beautifully, so they've been really successful here," Turner said. 

The center also offers residential programs for children that need a higher degree of help with their disabilities. 

McWilliam said more areas of the country need similar early intervention services, but in many cases, the availability depends heavily on charitable contributions and volunteers.

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