Early childhood development continues amid coronavirus

Early childhood development continues amid coronavirus

Parenting can be difficult during the best circumstances, parenting in the midst of a pandemic is even more so. For those with infants and toddlers who may have concerns, there are programs that offer assistance.

“I am not sure parents are aware of what is out there,” Tess White, a teacher at Toddlers Learning Center, said. “If you are wondering at all about your child’s behavior, we can answer questions and do an intake screening over the phone.”

Toddler Learning Center is a 30-year-old nonprofit organization that provides therapy, education, and parent support for children 0-36 months with developmental delays. TLC began on Whidbey Island and expanded to include both Island and San Juan counties. The cost of the program is variable and is often completely subsidized by grants, donations and insurance policies. Screening and intake are free for everyone.

White has been with the center for nearly seven years. She has been working with kids since she was a teenager, she said, but became focused on early childhood intervention after the birth of her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum.

“I got very interested in children’s development because I had a child that was developing a little differently,” White said.

White has a master’s degree in early childhood special education. Her clients include seven families in San Juan County and other families on Whidbey. She works with toddlers who are experiencing speech delays, as well as young children with more complex physical and learning issues. When White talks about her job, however, she talks in terms of the entire family.

“We are here for family and parental support, as well as the child,” White said. “It is the parents who are in the child’s life on a daily basis, so we provide them with the tools.”

White added that she wished she knew about early childhood intervention programs like the center for her daughter. Such programs help parents understand their child’s unique needs. For the toddler with developmental delays, the program can help ensure they have the environment and learning opportunities that fit their situation.

San Juan islander Kailey Genther and her husband first discovered the Toddler Learning Center through Washington’s Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program when their son Caeden, who is now 4 and has aged out of the program, needed assistance with his speech. White worked with him on his speech and comes to their house once a week.

“He is always excited to see her,” Genther said, adding that White has become another positive adult in her son’s life.

Now, White works with Genther’s daughter, Aisling, who is 15 months old and has experienced social apprehension.

“All moms have a sense of what’s up with their children,” Genther said. “They know if something isn’t quite right. Working with Tess [White] and the Toddler Learning Center gave me that validation.”

Genther’s children have different needs and the fact the staff has the ability to address such a wide variety of situations is a testament to the Toddler Learning Center, Genther said.

Doctor referrals are not required, and intake screening can be done over the phone or via online during the COVID epidemic, White explained. The screening focuses on the five areas of development which include cognitive development, such as the child’s ability to learn and solve problems; social and emotional development; speech and language development; fine motor skills, like holding utensils; and gross motor skill development, like walking. Screening questions center around how the child functions during their daily routine.

According to White, the staff at the center is happy to answer any parental concerns, including what to expect, and what is typical behavior for toddlers and infants. Staff will also refer families to other programs that could offer general support, should the child not qualify at the center.

White also provided a few tips for parents struggling through school closures and sheltering in place. Her first suggestion was to try maintaining a schedule, or at least some structure, so children know what to expect.

“Some kind of routine helps all ages feel a little more normal,” White said, adding that her family walks every day, it’s now expected. “Feeling overwhelmed, especially right now, is normal. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Genther and her family have been keeping daily journals as part of their daily quarantine routine. The entries might sound pretty basic, including chores like feeding the animals, Genther said with a laugh, however, in years to come, it might be interesting to read about how they coped during the COVID-19 epidemic.

New technology has been extremely helpful during these times. Currently, meetings with White occur virtually rather than face-to-face, but they have still been invaluable, Genther explained.

“Early Childhood development intervention has really given the whole family support and the tools to move forward,” Genther said. “It made us realize these issues were not bad horrible things, we just needed to work on them.”

For more information about TLC, call 360-370-7518 or visit https://www.tlcwhidbey.org/.