EDIS provides vital resource to military families
October 26, 2012
LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Germany -- Virginia Bannerman was worried about her son. At almost two-and-a-half years old, Kenny wasn't progressing the way her older child had and he was exhibiting some of the symptoms associated with possible developmental delays.
He had not started talking yet. He never made eye contact with others, including his family. He didn't socially interact with anybody, and when taken to playgroup would either move away from the other children to a corner, or worse, scream uncontrollably through the entire hour.
Friends and family were supportive, telling her things like "different children learn at different ages," "give it time, he'll grow out of it," and "don't worry, it'll get better."
As well-intentioned as her friends were in trying to calm her fears and provide encouragement, it took a stranger to point Virginia in the right direction for help.
"After Kenny screamed through playgroup one morning, I was approached by a lady as we were leaving and she said very respectfully, 'I don't mean to offend you or upset you, but my daughter used to do the same thing. Have you had your son tested for autism?'"
From that encounter, Virginia (whose husband is assigned to the NATO base in Brunssum, Netherlands) found the nearest servicing Educational and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) program at the SHAPE Army Health Clinic in Belgium.
"It's just amazing how much progress he's made in the three months he's been in the program," Virginia said with an audible mixture of joy and relief. "Two weeks ago he finally said 'Mama' and now he says it every five seconds. I don't get tired of hearing it."
Virginia credits the staff at EDIS SHAPE's early intervention services for the turn around. The SHAPE program is unique in that its services cover a large and diverse area -- working with families in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Home visits and early intervention services are available to children up to 36 months old.
"Since many of our communities are NATO bases, the EDIS program is able to also work with families from other countries if space is available," said Melissa Wiedel, the SHAPE program manager and early childhood special educator. It's a big task for a three-person staff, which includes Wiedel, a speech and language pathologist, and an occupational therapist.
"Our small team has been working to re-educate the communities we serve about the services we provide," said Wiedel. "The biggest obstacle for the EDIS program is getting parents to self-refer their child. No parent wants to hear that their child is not perfect, but we are here to help parents promote their child's development.
"I think," she continued, "that parents are afraid that we will come into their home and tell them they are bad parents or give their child a label. Parent education is the key -- knowing the milestones their child should be meeting and seeking out help early. Most of the children we see have developmental delays that with intervention and parent education they are able to 'catch up' with their peers."
In addition to parents self-referring their children, Wiedel said the program also receives referrals from doctors if there is a suspicion of delay when a child goes in for a visit.
In both cases, EDIS staff will conduct a screening that examines all five areas of development: social-emotional, language, cognitive, self-help, and motor skills. The screening takes about an hour, in which time the staff will ask the parents questions about their child and interact with the child to try and elicit skills.
"Melissa drove a long way to come to our house and screen Kenny," his mom recalled, "as well as making the weekly follow-on visits. When she comes in, she immediately gets on the floor on his level and does some repetitive melodies and singing to get him to focus on her. He even makes eye contact now. It seems like they are just sitting there playing and having fun, but she gets him to vocalize and repeat things and before long he started saying actual words."
Virginia echoed Wiedel's concern about community awareness of the program in that "unfortunately a lot of people don't even realize that this free resource exists. It's without a doubt one of the best things the military has ever done for us. I wish I would have looked for help sooner, but everyone kept telling me it was a phase and he'd grow out of it."
"The best thing to do, if a parent has any concern about their child's development is to get a second opinion," she added. "Remember, you're not doing this for you, but for your child. Parents should be willing to accept all options that could help. I'm so grateful a stranger took the time to approach me about it."
Virginia recently took Kenny back to playgroup and the reaction from other parents was shock, she said. "They were just amazed and asked if that was the same child because the difference in his behavior was so big."
Kenny's successful development, in fact, has put his mom at the point he was just three short months ago: speechless. "I'm at a loss," she said. "I can't even put it into words how great this has been for our whole family."
If parents feel that their child might have a developmental-related delay, they can call their local EDIS program or address their concerns with their pediatrician for possible referral.