Early intervention programs offer a glimmer of hope and are a blessing to any parent who has a child with special needs.

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LIKE most first-time parents, when my son was born, my husband and I had no clue what to do.

I had spent the vast majority of my 30 years on this earth avoiding babies — and even touted myself as a professional baby avoider. So, needless to say, finding out I was pregnant was a shock.

But learning that my unborn child had a rare chromosomal abnormality really put me in a panic. To this moment, I can remember the excruciating waves of fear that washed over us on a daily basis. Should we have the baby? Should I have an abortion? Was it too late? Would he be stillborn if we kept him? Did I cause this to happen somehow? Oh, those thoughts that still play through my head on a rainy day.

So, when our son Addison was born a healthy 7 pounds, 1 ounce, we were ecstatic. It wasn’t until we got him home two days later that things took a turn for the worse. He got sick, and not like a cold sickness, mind you — more like an emergency-room-may-not-make-it sick. He was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Hearing that he needed heart-bypass surgery was a twisted, yet welcome, relief. At least there was something tangibly wrong that could be fixed. We are forever indebted to the pediatric surgeon who operated on my son’s tinyheart and ultimately saved his life.

After his surgery, I quit my job, dropped out of grad school and booked an extended stay at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for four long, torturous months. The day finally came when Addison came home. I wish I could say that everything was butterflies and rainbows, but it wasn’t. If anyone has ever even broken a toe and gone to an emergency department, you know what I mean. We battled insurance companies, hospital billers, just about everyone. Having a baby, in general, makes daily life hard. But having a sick baby with no family or friends to rely on makes you want to just give up sometimes.

To say my son was physically and developmentally behind when he came home would be an understatement. At 4-months-old, Addison fit into newborn clothes and could not quite lift his head until six months. Although I would love to credit myself for his developmental milestones, I need to give credit where it is due. If it was not for the outstanding early intervention services we received, and still currently receive, I do not believe my son would be the charismatic, rambunctious 18-month-old he is today.

Early intervention programs offer a glimmer of hope and a needed blessing to any parent who has a child with special needs.”

In 1986, Congress established the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. Because this program was designed as a grant, we did not need to worry about our high-cost deductible. My son was already at a risk for developmental delays, as most kids who spend any time in the NICU are. He immediately away qualified for the program.

At first our intervention visits were daily, followed by weekly and now are monthly. As part of the program, we get high-quality access to care in our home on our time. We regularly see occupational therapists, physical therapists, developmental counselors and now speech therapists.

Early intervention programs offer a glimmer of hope and a needed blessing to any parent who has a child with special needs. Children who receive early intervention services demonstrate greater growth in such areas as social and knowledge development. By the end of a program, more than half of children who get such services are able to function at their age expectations.

Ensuring children are able to thrive and grow from the very start of life ensures they can reach their full potential later on. Without the hard working and dedicated support from therapists and counselors, I, for one, can say that the future would not be so bright.