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Early intervention gives family strategies to succeed.

Meet the O’Brien Family

Coraopolis, Pa.

Alex O’Brien points out each planet in his colorful drawing of the solar system and then describes the gray area he’s added just outside it, the Kuiper Belt. The curious 6-year-old enthusiastically tackles any topic that piques his interest. “Most recently,” his mom Maureen says, “it’s the digestive system and the circulatory system.” With that, he points out parts of the human anatomy in a large library book.

The active kindergartner attends a general classroom in his local public elementary school, performing above grade level academically, despite his autism diagnosis and a lifetime of obstacles that he’s overcome thanks, in part, to state-funded early intervention services.

“Alex began receiving early intervention at age 4 months,” Maureen explains, “due to nystagmus, torticollis and hypotonia.” Weekly physical and vision therapy sessions helped him develop. Then, when solid food was introduced in a less-than-successful fashion, occupational therapy helped. “As Alex aged, physical therapy helped him learn to walk so he could keep up with his peers in the toddler room at day care,” Maureen adds. “Around that same time, frustration with his limitations led to behaviors at home and day care that needed attention, so we added a developmental therapist to problem-solve and add strategies.”

“I have no idea where we’d be without this,” Maureen says, referring to the therapies, glasses, orthotics and surgeries that have been covered through state-provided medical assistance.

Because Maureen has worked as a speech therapist for 15 years, she sees both sides of early intervention services. “I see many families who rely on these services,” she says. “Now is a scary time as nervous families wonder what services will stay or which will be cut.”

Closer to home, Maureen worries about what would happen to her family without the therapies and services that are helping Alex grow. If funding remains intact, she says, “I have every reason to assume he’ll have gainful employment one day, friendships and a happy family life. All of these services are helping Alex figure out how to function.”

As Alex excitedly explains another facet of the solar system he’s discovering, Maureen muses, “One day, I can picture him as a really great professor. He’ll have a bigger audience for his lectures.”

Thank your legislators for making Human Services funding a priority in the 2017-18 Pennsylvania budget.

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