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Even during the darkest early days – when the hospital urged her to get there soon if she wanted to see her prematurely born son, Steven, alive one last time – Chandra Jones never stopped believing.

She was convinced that Steven would not only survive, but eventually thrive.

Eighteen years later, Chandra proudly relates that Steven was just named Most Valuable Pupil in his Oakland Schools Technical Campus engineering class and is considering a career in a technical field after he graduates this spring from Waterford Kettering High School.

“He likes to put things together,” she said. “If we have any issues with our TVs, computers or phones, he’s our go-to guy.”

Steven’s journey from struggling newborn to tech-savvy teen wasn’t always smooth, his mother said.

But, she added, it would have definitely proved much rougher if not for assistance provided by two Michigan Department of Education programs: Early On® Michigan, which offers early intervention services to families with children between the ages of 0 and 3, and Build Up Michigan, which operates primarily in preschool settings to get children ages 3 to 5 ready for kindergarten.

“It would have seemed impossible without the help we received from early intervention services,” Chandra Jones said. “I know he wouldn’t be where he is today without those services. That early foundational piece was very important to him.”

Steven’s case, and many others like it statewide, highlights the importance of identifying and addressing developmental delays or disabilities in children as early as possible, said Christine Callahan, director of innovative projects for the Clinton County Regional Educational Service Agency, which administers the Build Up and Early On programs.

“The evidence is overwhelming that early intervention improves and enhances the development of a child because learning is at its highest rate in the preschool years,” Callahan said, adding that Build Up and Early On services are provided at no charge to eligible families.

"They helped him with everything"

Beyond their direct impact on Steven, the programs also provided support to his mother. “They helped him with everything – feeding and showing me how to help him,” Chandra said. “I definitely didn’t know the development processes to turn to.”

For example, Steven had a poor sucking reflex and was unable to drink from a sippy cup, so child development specialists showed her how to fashion a straw that fit the cup.

But before any of that occurred, Steven first needed to survive.

He was born about three months early in November 1998 weighing less than 2 pounds. He required resuscitation at birth and spent his first 105 days in the hospital.

On one of the rare occasions she and her ex-husband weren’t visiting him at the hospital, Chandra received a call notifying her that the medical staff believed Steven was about to die. “They told us if he did survive, he’d be a vegetable,” she said.

But Steven battled through and was eventually able to go home, where Chandra was reluctant to take him out in public for fear of his contracting a potentially fatal respiratory virus.

Given his fight to simply survive, Steven had little chance to develop physically and cognitively at the same rate as most infants.

“He was late walking, he was late talking – he was late doing everything,” his mom said.

His road to recovery began at age 1, when he started receiving Early On services at home and in the Waterford School District. He later received similar assistance through the School District of the City of Pontiac.

Steven was considered to have learning disabilities and as a result received special education services such as occupational, physical and speech therapy while attending Waterford schools, to which he returned after receiving preschool special education services in the Pontiac district. He was always able to participate in mainstream, general education classes.

And while large crowds can make him anxious, he’s personable in smaller social settings, Chandra said.

“He’s generally everyone’s favorite guy,” she said. “He’s just like Raymond – ‘Everybody Loves Steven.’”

His social skills, coupled with his technical know-how, give Jones hope that Steven can live self-sufficiently.

“I always expected him to be successful, but I told him the other day just how proud I am of him,” she said. “He had some struggles along the way, but looking back at it now, I know that all of those early intervention services made him who he is today.”

Parents can learn more about the help that is available by going to www.buildupmi.org or calling the Michigan Special Education Information Line at

1-888-320-8384.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.

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