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When Jessica Geottes’ son struggled learning to speak as a toddler, she knew she needed to act quickly.

As a longtime teacher in the West Bloomfield School District, Geottes fully appreciated how early intervention in the face of learning delays can make a world of difference for a child.

“Jesse received outside and in-school speech therapy from the age of 3 to 6 years. Now he’s in second grade and you would never know he had a speech delay before. I owe all of his success to early intervention,” said Geottes, a first-grade teacher at Gretchko Elementary School in Oakland County.

Teachers understand the power of early intervention and can offer a reassuring voice to concerned parents who are unsure about the process or the prospects for success.

Build Up Michigan is a public awareness campaign developed by the Michigan Department of Education Office of Special Education to identify 3- to 5-year-olds who need extra help to become ready for kindergarten and provide preschool-based assistance.

There are a range of concerns that could potentially impact a child's learning ability, including difficulty with speech/language, cognitive impairment, autism spectrum disorder, emotional concerns, traumatic brain injury, hearing or visual difficulties, early childhood developmental delay or a specific learning disability. Intervening early can in many cases resolve, or at least limit, a child's roadblock to learning.

Erica Surma is an early childhood special education teacher at Gudith Elementary School in the Woodhaven-Brownstown School District. Her preschool classroom helps developmentally delayed children learn the skills they’ll need in kindergarten.

“It’s a language-based program,” Surma said. “All the children receive speech therapy in the classroom and some come in not speaking at all. So we work on getting our needs met through language and that plays right into social skills: learning how to play with a peer and how to appropriately play with toys.”

Surma also encourages parents to work with their child on homework, including phonics practice.

“Each child is so unique that it’s important to have a real partnership between home and school. Consistency is a real component to a child’s success,” she said.

Teachers accept children for where they are developmentally, but then work to bring them up to speed for kindergarten, said Mary Morosky, a lead teacher at West Bloomfield Preschool Academy.

In Wayne County, parents wondering if their child needs special educational services have a one-stop option with Sonya Adams, the referral contact for Wayne RESA.

“When I speak with a family, I connect them with a service based on the child’s needs, age and where they live,” Adams said. “When a family calls and has more than one child, I can refer based on each child’s developmental concerns without having the family call multiple numbers.”

Adams works in coordination with a range of early childhood intervention programs, including Build Up.

Adams also knows firsthand about the importance of early intervention: Her son Ryan was diagnosed at the age of 2 months with a profound hearing loss. Although Ryan did have significant language delays, the extra services helped immensely.

“He really made leaps and bounds so that by age 4, he was only slightly language delayed and was mainstreamed. Now in seventh grade, Ryan is in the top of his class,” Adams said.

Teachers see each day that identifying a delay early helps students get the support they need to be successful.

“When I look at my students when they first begin and then two or three years later when they’re ready to move on, it’s night and day,” Surma said.

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This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Build Up Michigan.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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