The human brain grows more rapidly from birth to three years of age than at any other point in life.
Careful nurturing during that crucial window, especially for kids with developmental disabilities, can make a difference for years to come, according to Kim Smith.
It’s why Smith, executive director of South Sound Parent to Parent (SSP2P), is hoping to reach more families of children with developmental disabilities in order to provide service and support during those three early years.
SSP2P, which serves Grays Harbor, Thurston and Mason counties, is the providing agency for parents and families raising infants or toddlers with a delay or disability.
While SSP2P has a number of different programs, the agency’s early support program in Grays Harbor County — which helps those young children with communication, learning and social interaction — has seen a decline in children enrolled in the program, Smith said, despite evidence of substantial eligible populations on the Harbor.
It’s unclear to Smith exactly what has led to the drop off, a trend she hopes to reverse. But helping Grays Harbor tykes with development could have impacts long after they leave the program, she said.
“We want to get those kids (in the program) before they are out of that birth-to-three range because there’s so much that can be done to help them in that early intervention phase,” Smith said. “That’s pretty much why we exist.”
SSP2P was founded in 1987 by a group of parents and educators in the Olympia School District who wanted to build a support network between parents raising kids with disabilities. That’s where the agency derives the “Parent to Parent” part of its name.
Smith said connecting parents is still the “cornerstone” of the agency, but since then it’s grown to add programs like early support, which is now the agency’s largest.
Smith said the early support program had 500 children enrolled at the beginning of last month, but only 60 of those were living in Grays Harbor County. Numbers have also declined in Mason County, but increased in Thurston County.
Much of the funding for the program — which comes from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction — is distributed based on census counts of children with disabilities. Smith knows SSP2P isn’t reaching as many clients as it could be, because the numbers represented in that census data are “not reflected” in the number of people the program currently serves in the county.
Smith said there’s evidence that local special education programs in schools are growing.
Parents are often referred to SSP2P through hospitals, physicians, Child Protective Services, school districts, and other parents, among others. Parents can also make a self-referral.
The early support program has certain eligibility requirements, Smith said. There’s a technical eligibility requirement — a 25% developmental delay from the child’s age. Washington state has a list of about 700 qualifying conditions. Children can also qualify based on a clinical recommendation from a professional.
SSP2P has a staff of trained “home visitors,” who, as their title suggests, visit clients at their home to provide one-on-one service.
“It’s nice because we’re doing it in a natural environment,” said Shawn Thurman, community outreach coordinator at SSP2P. “If you go to the hospital, a lot of times it takes a half hour just to get acclimated.”
Whitney Reed is a Hoquiam mother whose three-year-old son, Logan, recently went through the early support program. Logan was born with a condition called hydrocephalus, which causes fluid buildup in the brain. The condition can damage brain tissue and lead to impaired cognitive development.
Reed was referred to SSP2P by Tacoma General Hospital following Logan’s birth. Reed said she felt “really nervous at first to have somebody from this agency, which I didn’t know anything about, come into my home.”
The anxiety quickly faded once she and Logan began to work with Barb George, her home visitor.
“They would play on the floor together and interact. She’s just great,” Reed said. “Having somebody like Barb come into your home, she’s like a friend. She really did care about us.”
Depending on the clients’ need, home visitors can provide speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Reed said she received free diapers, a stroller, and aquarium and zoo tickets. The agency also provides food, clothes and gas cards.
“Since I got back from the hospital with Logan, they’ve been by my side the entire time,” Reed said. “It’s been very reassuring, very comforting. It gave me a lot more confidence, and to have somebody to talk to is nice, too.”
Reed said she still keeps in contact with George, her former home visitor. Logan is now too old for the early support program, and has made the transition into preschool.
Smith said SSP2P works closely with local school districts to help transition kids into school, once they leave the program. In addition, SSP2P is a member of the Grays Harbor Equity Task Force, a collaboration of local human service agencies. SSP2P has a strong relationship with the Arc of Grays Harbor, another agency that provides early support.
And as Logan enters preschool, Reed is working to raise awareness for hydrocephalus. Logan currently lives with a shunt, a hollow tube that drains the fluid in his brain. But the shunt is not a cure for the disease and it could fail at any time.
That’s why Reed has organized a fundraising effort called Logan’s League through the Hydrocephalus Foundation. Logan’s League will attend the annual Walk to End Hydrocephalus on Sept. 9, 2023 in Seattle.
You can donate to Logan’s League here: http://support.hydroassoc.org/goto/LogansLeague23.
People seeking services from South Sound Parent to Parent can call 360.352.1126 or visit www.ssp2p.org.
Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.