From the moment his daughter Allison was born, Doug Bleeker knew something was wrong. Within minutes, he and his wife, Carolyn, were told that Allison was born with a neurological defect called myelomengocele, a form of spina bifida.
“A big part of my concept of being a dad with Allison died at that point,” says Bleeker. “Where do you go from there?”
With seemingly zero options, the Bleekers heard about the Birth to Three Developmental Preschool Program at the Riverside School District (292-0235). The program helps children who are developmentally delayed in cognitive, gross and fine motor, language and social/emotional skills.
Other, similar programs are private and costly, but the Developmental Preschool Program is funded through the Riverside district, serving an average of 10 special-needs children each year.
Within weeks, the Bleekers moved to Chattaroy and enrolled Allison into the program.
“The first thing they did was assess Allison’s disability and analyze what we were doing,” says Carolyn Bleeker. “They showed me how to hold Allison properly and sit with her so she could feel safe and learn to put pressure on her spine.”
“It’s a pretty high-energy group,” Carolyn says of the program’s staff. “They really went to town on our job with Allison. Now we’re challenging her to do some things with her hips and back. We’re trying to give her a stable base of support.”
Which is what the program provides to families of special-needs kids.
“We are a family-oriented, child-directed program and want to earn the parent’s trust,” says Dan Conley, Allison’s physical therapist. “The families of these kids have fears and feel out of control. We want to give them hope and make them feel in control.”
Conley says Riverside’s program is effective because of the effort made by team members: teachers, aides, therapists, physicians, counselors, psychologists and parents.
Voluntary programs like this one have been hurt by recent funding reductions, Conley says. The program’s per-student funding was changed to a flat rate, and since the student enrollment at Riverside is above the state average, the program receives fewer dollars to spend among its ever-growing number of children.
The Bleekers are trying to convince state legislators to try to reverse the funding decision and return to the per-student basis, convinced that working with special-needs kids from birth is vital and should continue to be offered through public schools.
“Special education usually begins at age 3,” Doug Bleeker says, “but if you take a kid with Allison’s problems and begin working with them at 3, you’re behind the game and have missed out on opportunities. The earlier parents can begin, the better.”
Now 16 months, Allison spends three or four days a week in the program at Riverside Elementary.
“Lots of people have been helpful and willing to listen to our concerns,” says Carolyn Bleeker, “and they’ve been there when I was feeling emotionally crushed by the whole situation.”
Says Doug Bleeker, “They have provided support to prepare us for what is coming down the road. Most importantly, they’ve redirected my concept of how I can be a dad to Allison, so I can be the best dad possible for her.”
, DataTimes MEMO: The Family Track offers notes and information for families. Write to Lynn Gibson, Features Department, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210-1615, or fax (509) 459-5098.
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