The “sooner the better” has been a favorite phrase of mine since volunteering in a Head Start classroom when that program was just beginning. Starting early to improve results seemed like common sense and has been proven by longitudinal research to be true. We know that experiences during the earliest years of life critically impact a child’s ability to learn, move, and interact with others, and are particularly important for communication and language development.
Children with sensory challenges, additional disabilities and complex health needs face particular challenges and benefit from early intervention. This is especially true for young children with combined vision and hearing loss, for whom the world can be a very scary place. State deaf-blind projects, a national family association and a network of professionals with specialized training are available to provide technical assistance to families, educators and caregivers of these children. However, the most recent data from the NCDB National Deaf-Blind Child Count indicate nearly twice as many children in the age 3- to 6-year-old category than the 0- to 3-year-old category, suggesting that many children who are deaf-blind are not identified as such, nor referred to state deaf-blind projects, until age 3 or older.
Since July, 2007 an NCDB work group has been working to form partnerships focused on improving the early identification and referral of infants and toddlers, birth through age two, with combined vision and hearing loss and I have been fortunate to be involved in those efforts. These efforts began with an extensive literature review, analysis of survey results and focus group interviews to learn about effective early identification and referral strategies being implemented by state deaf-blind projects that demonstrated success in identifying infants and toddlers. Continued work has concentrated on learning more from the broader early intervention community about evidence based early identification and referral practices, collecting resources developed by the deaf-blind network, and determining how to best share what we have learned.
All that work has paid off! NCDB’s Early Identification and Referral Initiative Team has just made available the Early Identification Self-Assessment and Referral Guide for use by state deaf-blind projects. The guide offers a data-based decision making process that includes data analysis, reflection on state systems serving children birth through two, and the development of an action plan to address any identified issues related to under-identification or under-referral. The Guide has been implemented as a pilot by ten state deaf-blind projects and includes a “toolbox” of great resources. The pilot states are ready and willing to share their experiences and the EI&R Team is available to provide technical assistance to any state project interested in completing the self-assessment process.
As someone who’s passionate about making sure little ones with combined vision and hearing loss – and their families – get connected as early as possible to the people and resources that can help I can’t think of a better holiday gift to share! Take a look at http://www.nationaldb.org/EarlyIdentificationInitiative.php and plan to join us on January 15 or 17 (2013) to learn more.
Barbara Purvis - NCDB