In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, we would like to share an article from our Spring 2016 Catalyst newsletter.
Joanna was worried about her youngest son, Caleb. At two years old, he was not reaching any of the developmental milestones his four year old brother, Andrew, had when he was two. She brought both boys into Bay Point’s First 5 Center, an early childhood development center run by STAND! For Families Free of Violence for children ages 0 to 5 and their parents. While Andrew flourished in his School Readiness classes, Caleb spent his Early Learning classes unresponsive, staring at the walls and easily agitated.
First 5 Bay Point staff noticed his behavior and spoke to Joanna about screening Caleb for developmental delays. Joanna declined the screening, saying Caleb was better at home. It was not until she brought him to the doctor for a hearing test and he refused to cooperate that Joanna realized her son was struggling in ways she did not understand.
“He was starting to hurt me and his brother,” she said.
At their next visit to First 5 Bay point, which offers free classes to parents and children 6 days a week, Caleb took the Ages and Stages Questioner (ASQ) assessment—a tool used to detect developmental delays in young children, when intervention is most effective and least expensive. After a further referral and an in-depth assessment, Caleb was diagnosed with high functioning autism, a developmental disorder characterized by peculiarities in speech and language, the inability to interact successfully with peers and problems with non-verbal communication, among other indicators.
Thanks to First 5’s screening tool, Caleb began receiving services to aid in his development. In addition to the individual support they receive at the Regional Center, Caleb and Joanna also participate in First 5 Bay Point’s weekly class for children with developmental delays. By intervening early, both Caleb and Joanna got the support and guidance they need to get off to a good start and learn how to thrive while adjusting to Caleb’s autism. Now 4 years old, he is enjoying preschool and is beginning to speak.
As for Joanna, she has become one of STAND!’s biggest advocates for screening children for developmental delays.
“Even if you don’t think they need it, have your child assessed,” she says. “Once I knew about Caleb’s autism, I could understand him more and support his development better. I don’t get frustrated with him anymore because I know that, for a child with autism, his behavior is normal.”
STAND!’s First 5 Bay Point center advocates passionately for early detection of delays not only for the impact it can have on children’s development, but also for its value as a tool for child abuse prevention.
While over 6 million children are abused every year in the U.S., kids with disabilities or developmental delays are nearly 3.5 times more likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than those without. Children with autism, Down syndrome or an intellectual disability are especially vulnerable to physical abuse because parents can become frustrated by the child’s behavior and respond harshly.
First 5 Bay Point offers free developmental delay screening for every child that comes through the center, as well as classes to teach parents about child development and their own child’s unique strengths and challenges. Identifying a delay early can help mitigate frustration and confusion for both parents and children while helping the whole family access the support and resources they need.
ASQ screening is only one of many services STAND! provides at First 5 Bay Point. Serving a primarily Spanish-speaking community, the center teaches English-language skills to get children ready for school. Last school year, 85% of kindergarteners who had been enrolled in the First 5 Bay Point language skills program were able to start in mainstream kindergarten, as opposed to being placed in an ESL program. By preparing kids to be successful in school, First 5 can prevent frustration—and the oft-accompanying violence—down the road.
“We work a lot on self-esteem,” says Vicki Coster, Prevention Manager at First 5 Bay Point. “This program is all about giving people the skills they need in life so they don’t find themselves in unhealthy situations.”
With free classes in Early Learning (for 0-3 year olds), Parent Education and School Readiness (for 4-5 year olds), STAND!’s First 5 center in Bay Point supports health, happiness and success for the whole family.