Special program helps developmentally challenged children

By Justin Boron

Fifteen-month old William and Austin Pierson stumble through their front lawn with the guidance of a therapist who is helping them learn what other babies tend to pick up on their own.

Angela and Andrew Pierson's twin sons were born three months premature, and they are already playing catch up in life.

Preemie babies have difficulty learning to crawl, walk, and speak, the Pierson's therapist said. To remedy slow rate of developmental progress, the state of Georgia provides social services for families with disabled children through an agency called Babies Can't Wait.

The federally funded program is set up to help children from birth to age 3 overcome developmental disabilities, said Telmeko Smith, who coordinates therapy for families with special needs children at the agency.

"Early intervention significantly decreases the need for special education for children in the future," she said.

The Pierson twins are about three months behind their peers in developmental standards, said their father Andrew Pierson.

But with the help of their therapist, Stephanie Taylor-Mahone, they will be back on track in six months and ready to be discharged from the program.

"In the past three months, they've made some major gains," she said.

In the last two weeks, the children started walking. Now Taylor-Mahone said she is introducing them to uneven surfaces outside by letting them push lawn mower toys through the yard.

"You have to teach through play activities," she said. "In this house there is a lot of play activities."

Critical developmental steps often go unnoticed in babies who are birthed on a regular schedule. For babies like William and Austin, each step is critical, she said.

Austin is struggling to adjust to the feeling of grass instead of carpet and is afraid to sit down, crying whenever a blade grazes his skin.

The cries prompt the Piersons' to help their upset child.

Their inclination to pick him up is natural, Taylor-Mahone said.

But it can also be detrimental to his development.

By forcing Austin to sit on the grass, the therapist serves as a buffer between developmentally challenged children and parents eager to run to the side of their crying child, she said.

Although the process can be difficult for parents at times, she said it can also be very rewarding for them.

The Piersons' said they treat every modicum of progress like child hitting a homerun.

"Every achievement is nothing less than if they came home with straight ?A' report card," Mr. Pierson said.

For Ms. Pierson, the process has been a traumatic experience rejuvenated by the twins' ascension from being hooked up to tubes to crawling up the stairs on their own.

"You feel extremely helpless when you leave the hospital without your babies," she said.

The couple has also made a transition in their emotional state as their children grew healthier.

When the twins were born, the Piersons lived each day under the threat of losing a child.

Now, Ms. Pierson beams every time her sons make a basket in their toy basketball hoop.

The Piersons' attribute their success in the Babies Can't Wait program to its intervention in their lives as soon as the babies were born.

However, many families with disabled or developmentally challenged children are unaware that help exists, Smith said.

The gap in awareness limits the ability of many children to assimilate with their peers once they start school, she said.

To shore up awareness problems, the agency is holding a festival for its families and anyone interested in the program on Sept. 18 at The Beach under St. Bart's Pavilion.

For more information on Babies Can't Wait call 770-960-9961 or visit their office at 7146 Southlake Parkway.