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December is a big month for Colton Kivela.

He’ll be turning 3
, “graduating” from Kindering Center and starting preschool at Lake Washington School District through its Ready Start program.

“It’s been amazing, the progress he’s made so far,” said Colton’s mom, Jamie Kivela, on a recent day, as she watched her son raise his hands in class and play with other kids.

Kindering Center, a nonprofit based in Bellevue that provides services for children from birth to 3 years old who have special needs, had a lot to do with that.

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Jamie Kivela, 33, of Redmond, who works as a project controller at an engineering firm, hadn’t known what to expect when she found out at Colton’s birth that he had Down syndrome.

“I kind of felt like I was lost in the woods,” she said.

Her mind raced to the future: Would Colton be able to get a job, find love, function in society?

She also realized she also didn’t know what to expect in the more immediate future: when Colton might start to walk or talk or reach other developmental milestones.

But starting when Colton was about 4 months old, physical therapists and feeding specialists from Kindering Center came to Jamie and Kristopher Kivela’s home.

They showed the parents exercises that they could do with Colton to build his muscle strength, such as dangling toys above him to teach him to raise his arms. The feeding therapist worked on developing Colton’s oral muscle strength.

Probably just as important was the therapists’ work helping his parents learn what to expect.

“I feel like even though they were Colton’s therapists, they helped me emotionally,” Jamie Kivela said. “They outlined a path — what we might expect in the future.”

She came to realize that the concerns and questions she had about Colton’s future “cannot be answered for him or any other kid — typical ones or ones with special needs,” she said. “I’ve learned to live in the moment, and my job as his mom is to provide him with resources and guidance so when the time comes, he can have the opportunity to possibly experience these things.”

Kindering Center has been offering such services to some 3,500 children and their families a year.

Soon, many more families will be able to benefit.

In January, Kindering Center plans to open an additional location in Bothell, nearly doubling the number of children it serves in its early intervention program.

Of the 3,500 children Kindering Center currently serves, about 1,700 are in the early-intervention program. That program provides physical and speech therapy and special education for children up to 3 years old who meet the state’s criteria for having a developmental disability.

The center also provides services to infants and toddlers not formally classified by the state as having a disability but who may be at risk for developmental delays because of socioeconomic issues. Such services include home visits to foster homes to help caregivers and the children in their care develop healthy attachments, and on-site early intervention for families in transitional housing.

The 51-year-old Kindering Center has been operating out of its Crossroads neighborhood location since 1983.

“We’re so oversubscribed in this location,” said Executive Director Mimi Siegel. “We’ve maximized every nook and cranny of space.”

The new Bothell location will offer much of the same services as the Bellevue center, with a staff that includes speech, physical and family therapists; social workers; special educators; and family-resource coordinators.

The new location will add about 50 staff members to Kindering’s current roster of 120, as well as increase its budget from $7.4 million this year to a planned $8.8 million next year.

About a quarter of Kindering Center’s funding is from foundations and from private donations, such as those from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. The rest comes about equally from local and federal governments; subcontracts with school districts; and payments from insurance, Medicaid and — in small part — fees from families.

“Kindering has been an invaluable service to our entire family,” said Colton’s father, Kristopher Kivela, 37, who is a performance analyst at a freight-forwarding company. “The impact they have had on Colton’s development and working with us on how to reinforce his development has been amazing.”

The family has learned how to incorporate various exercises into play, such as helping to develop Colton’s core strength by sitting him on a balance ball and holding him as he wobbles back and forth.

They’ve learned to develop his communication skills by saying things at his level of communication and then waiting silently for him to take a turn.

For instance, if Colton is playing with blocks and puts a block on a stack, his mom might then put a block on the stack herself, while saying “on,” and then wait for him to imitate the sound or put another block on.

In the past year, Colton has made a lot of progress in his communications skills, said Ann McMahon, a speech-language pathologist at Kindering Center.

He uses sounds, gestures and, his mother says, about 200 signs for words.

In addition, his mother adds, he’s learned about 10 words: “mama,” “dada,” and his favorite: “no.”

Colton is “like this bright ray of sunshine,” said Andy Miclat, who teaches the Stepping Stones toddler preschool class at Kindering Center that Colton is in. “He’s a charmer.”

Colton proves that point when he flashes a beaming smile and waves to the kids sitting next to him as the class sings “Goodbye, Colton” as part of the farewell song at the end of class.

“I’m really sad to lose the services of Kindering when Colton turns 3, but we are grateful for their services during the crucial development years,” said Kristopher Kivela. “We have met and worked with some truly amazing people in the past three years.”

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or On Twitter @janettu.

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