Early intervention programs target Westmoreland children in need of help
Born at just over 27 weeks gestation, Victoria Zerlin began life with unusual challenges.
She spent her first 80 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, where her parents, both Venezuelans, were living at the time.
“When she was discharged from the NICU, they told us that she would need early intervention because of her prematurity,” said her mother, Sorcyre Noriega, who now lives with her family in Hempfield.
Victoria also has been diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia, a type of brain injury that affects premature infants.
At 11 months old, she is not yet crawling or sitting on her own, and she has trouble eating from a spoon, her mother said.
Despite the motor delays, she is a happy baby. She is beginning to say mama and dada, thanks in part to the help she and her parents have received through the early childhood intervention system in Westmoreland County.
On Monday, Noriega attended the annual spring conference of the Westmoreland County Local Interagency Coordinating Council, or LICC, in the hopes of finding more resources for Victoria.
“I know that my daughter is going to reach her abilities, but it’s a very slow process,” she said.
Victoria receives two hours of physical therapy and one hour of occupational therapy per week in the home, all at no cost to the family. The therapists are employed by Achieva, a service provider that participates in the LICC.
Noriega said the transition from Texas to Western Pennsylvania was seamless because of the early intervention system in place in Westmoreland County. The family moved to Hempfield on Feb. 8. By Feb. 22, Victoria had had her first therapy session.
“I am so glad that I have the therapists that I have. They are amazing. … The service they are providing us, it’s awesome,” she said, noting the therapists also provide coaching to the parents.
An estimated 100 children from birth to age 3 are referred to Westmoreland County’s early intervention system every month, said Michele Hawk, early intervention coordinator for Westmoreland County Behavioral and Developmental Services.
Referrals come from a variety of sources — pediatricians, parents, childcare centers, teachers, hospitals — and for a variety of reasons. The child might not be eating properly, might have trouble talking, might have hearing or vision problems, or might not be flourishing in some other way.
Approximately 1,100 children from birth to age 3 are served by the Westmoreland County system each year, while 1,350 children ages 3-5 are served by the system annually.
“This is the most critical time in their lives from a developmental standpoint, so we really want to target this population of children,” said Brandi Binakonsky, early intervention administrator for the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit. “We cover the whole gamut of special education services.”
The Westmoreland Intermediate Unit operates an early intervention preschool program that seeks to smooth the transition of children with disabilities and developmental delays to regular school, she said.
“The intent of early intervention preschool is to reduce the likelihood that the child will need special education services or reduce the intensity of services when they go into school,” Binakonsky said. “If a child’s still eligible when they’re getting ready to go to school, we have a plan of action directly with the school districts to help them transition successfully when they go to kindergarten.”
Parents of children ages 3-5 should contact the intermediate unit by calling 724-836-2460.
Parents of infants and toddlers should contact Westmoreland Casemanagement and Supports Inc. by calling 724-837-1808.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .