Many parents have questions about their children’s development. Are their children hitting their developmental milestones? Are they on pace with their peers? Jenison resident Christina Threloff was one of those parents. And when she thought her 14-month-old son wasn’t speaking as he should, she took her concerns to her pediatrician. There she learned about the free, local, Early On services available for her family, offered through Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.

The Ottawa Area ISD Early On program supports families with children ages birth to three years who have developmental delays or disabilities. The program is designed to identify and evaluate possible developmental delays or disabilities in children, help families better understand and work with their child, and enhance the growth and development of infants and toddlers.

After Christina contacted Early On, her son Arlo began meeting with Ottawa Area ISD Early On Teacher Marcie Lehman in their home. Through puzzles, games, learning new ways to support speech, and positive encouragement Arlo grew his vocabulary.

When a child qualifies for an Early On program, the Early On instructor meets with the family as a team to talk about the child’s strengths and needs. One method Arlo really responded to was having choices that encouraged him to use his words.

“It amazes me that less than a year ago Marcy’s goal for Arlo was to have a fifty-word vocabulary and now we’re working on three to four-word phrases, and I can actually talk to my child,” Christina says. “That’s really exciting!”

Along with in-home sessions, parent-child playgroups are offered for all families working with Early On to give children an opportunity to grow their socialization skills and see all the program’s therapists including occupational, physical and speech-language therapists at one time.

“Kids learn best from their peers so they need to be around other children their age and see what they are doing,” Marcie says. “Our goal is for students to imitate other students and learn from what they are doing, and then start doing new things themselves.”

Christina says it’s important to ask about services in order to see if you qualify so you can help your child. “Early On is there to give your kids the tools to make the progress to catch up.” 

“Sometimes you need help, and that is what we’re here for,” Marcie says.

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