Early Intervention Providers Bridge Cultural Gaps
Raising children in the United States is no small task; especially if your upbringing took place in another country. Customs, traditions, and daily routines are just not the same. So, how do we bridge this gap between our childhood and our children’s? How do we handle setbacks as parents in a foreign culture? When children show signs of delay or health issues, there are now programs in place to help families of all cultures.
Early Intervention (EI) is a national program that services 0-3 year-old children and their families. Massachusetts has 59 programs throughout the state which are overseen by the Department of Public Health. This program started in 1977, and benefits families from many cultures. EI teams are interdisciplinary; they include Educators, Social Workers, Speech Therapists, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Nurses, and Psychologists. Services take place in a child’s natural environment—either at home or within the community. This model allows greater accessibility for families with transportation needs, and to engage children and families within a comfortable environment. Children entering the EI program may receive help due to prematurity, health issues, developmental delays, social and environmental stressors, and behavioral difficulties, to name a few. Parents of children in the program receive support in the form of developmental information and suggestions for age-appropriate activities.
The decision to accept and participate in services can be a difficult one, depending on culture and circumstance. However, the children’s gains far outweigh initial barriers that may exist. This has been the case for two families enrolled in the Thom Charles River Early Intervention program. A mother of Middle Eastern descent expressed mixed emotions at the onset of their EI services, “the hesitation arose after my mother mentioned that perhaps EI would label my children as having a disability, but even then I thought that if they were truly disabled in some way I would want to know as soon as possible so that the appropriate treatment could be started.” When asked if cultural differences affected her experience with the EI service provider, she said she was quite satisfied with the care and respect shown. “Given all the hostility towards people of Middle Eastern descent at the moment in the news, I wondered if this would make a difference in the way an American person would perceive us. I am glad to say that it did not make any difference, and we never felt uncomfortable in any way.” From respectfully removing shoes to unbiased attitudes, the EI staff conducted sessions that bridged the cultural gaps and focused on the children’s needs.
Despite cultural barriers that exist, EI has touched many lives by supporting young children in developing and growing, and by helping parents in their journey. These children may have otherwise started in the school system with a disadvantage. One parent of Indian descent is grateful to have EI in their lives, “For me, going to EI never meant that my child had a disability. It just means that these children have a slightly higher learning curve and have different requirements as far as their well being and growth is concerned. I really cannot tell you how grateful I am for all the people that have supported me over the various stages as my daughter was growing up...EI has played the role of a super mom for me and my family.” No matter the culture, EI can offer helpful suggestions, developmental activities, and even moral support for young families.
For more information about Early Intervention, visit: www.mass.gov/dph/earlyintervention or call 800-905-8437.
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