Concerned about your child’s development? Early intervention resources are available to help

It’s hard to know where a parent can turn if they sense something’s not right with their baby or young child. That’s where the Midland County Educational Service Agency (MCESA) can help. The ESA’s professionals strive to make the process easier for parents from that first phone call and beyond.

“It’s hard to know what’s right and what’s not right,” says Michelle Bahr, special education director with Midland County ESA’s Early On Program. “Sometimes friends and families are well-intentioned and they may say it’s nothing, but it’s your baby. A parent knows best.” 

There are many stages of development a baby and youngster go through and each child is different. If a parent feels they have concerns about development, there’s a place to call and ask for help, says Bahr. “It's a piece of mind. There’s no stigma,” she says.

The MCESA provides a variety of Early Intervention Ancillary student services to children from birth to age six who have not yet entered school. Its early intervention evaluations and services are of no cost to children living within the Midland County school districts of Midland, Bullock Creek, Meridian and Coleman.

The ESA offers services including speech and language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, school social work, teacher consultant for the hearing impaired and visually impaired, audiological services, assistive technology, and more.
“That’s a huge burden off of these families knowing there’s no charge to them for their child to be evaluated,” says Bahr.

Bahr knows this firsthand.

Her first daughter Kirsten was born with Turner’s Syndrome,  a rare chromosomal disorder in which a female is born with only one X chromosome. Bahr said her daughter had some physical challenges at birth and then as a youngster. While she says they received “excellent medical care” in the area, Bahr wanted to make sure their daughter was given the best when it came to her education and formative years. 

Kirsten went through Midland Public Schools and had occupational therapists and other ESA professionals who worked with her throughout her school years. She graduated from Dow High School, attended Saginaw Valley State University, and now has a full-time job.

“It’s not just a job to me; it’s personal. Kirsten is a success story,” says Bahr. “She had delays, yes, but I knew she was going to be OK. We couldn't have done it without [the services].” Bahr’s experience inspired her to work in special education. She’s been with the ESA over 20 years and is now the director of special education. 

“I would tell a parent: ‘Don’t stew about something that’s going on with your child. Call, and don't wait,’” says Bahr.

Nathan Donate, Sally Youn's son, works on a school lesson at home during quarantine. The ESA provided each student with a ‘classroom in a box’ so that students who may not be able to participate in virtual school lessons can learn at home.Sally Youn, a Midland resident and parent to her 9-year-old son Nathan Donate, agrees, adding that while “each child is different and develops at their own pace, don’t worry but also don’t wait if you're seeing something in your child that concerns you.”

Youn says that it was at about 18 months of age when she felt Nathan was having a hard time eating and during meal times. He was not walking, but crawling everywhere. She chalked it up to being the youngest of two.

She called the ESA to set up an at-home assessment.

“I’m not trained in child development,” says Youn. “Sometimes you need someone from the outside to identify what could be going on.” Nathan was shown to have developmental delays, an eating disorder, and later diagnosed with autism.

Nathan began his journey with the ESA attending preschool where he received speech and occupational therapy. He progressed each step of the way, attending classes at Longview School and now spending half-days at the Pediatric Center of Mid-Michigan — part of the ESA — where he receives behavioral therapy.
Nathan tries out the swing during his occupational therapy appointment. Since being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Nathan participates in several evidence-based therapies.
“A lot of people with children with disabilities feel unseen. I don’t know where we’d be without the ESA,” says Youn. “We feel really fortunate to live in an area that provides this type of support. It’s one of the best resources and programs in the state; we’d be totally lost without them.”

The Pediatric Center of Mid-Michigan offers a multi-agency model for the provision of medical, psychological and educational services in one location for children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. Professionals from different areas will diagnose, develop a plan for treatment, and deliver follow-up care to implement the treatment plan. 

Since the COVID-19 restrictions have lessened, home visits are being offered again.According to the ESA, the services are family-centered, comprehensive and coordinated. The Pediatric Center at 32 S.Homer Rd. officially began offering its programs in January 2020. It closed for a period of time during the early onset of the COVID-19 shutdown. 

Christi Dickey, the Center’s project coordinator and supervisor of special education, helped bring the dream of providing “a one-stop shop” for families to fruition. 

Because the center partners with the ESA, MidMichigan Health and Community Mental Health, Dickey says “there are better outcomes for kids — a better quality of life.  With all these agencies involved under one roof, there’s no need to replicate. We can speed things up. We’re talking to each other and the stress level is off families, and that’s huge.”

Carly Lillard, mother of Elias Witkop, a second-grader at Midland Public Schools, says she’s thankful for the multiple resources the ESA has offered her son and family.

Carly Lillard, mother of Elias Witkop, a second-grader at Midland Public Schools, says she’s thankful for the multiple resources the ESA has offered her son and family.“It’s a unique community. We’re thankful that it’s in our area,” Lillard says. Elias’ journey started at about 15 months of age. Lillard says he wasn’t making sounds, eye contact, or pointing to things. She reached out to the ESA for an evaluation. 

“It was easy. I called [and] someone came out to the house and played with Eli,” says Lillard. “They were so kind. They got on the floor and played games; sang songs. It wasn’t scary at all. That’s your child, You have to be their biggest advocate.” 

Lillard says while friends and family can be well-intentioned, “some people have a hard time hearing the truth. “Nobody wants to hear that something is wrong with their child. I have zero regrets,” says Lillard. “I’m so thankful.”

Elias, who was later diagnosed with autism and developmental delay, has made many strides since he was first evaluated. 

“He talks constantly, tells jokes, and is very attuned to people,” says Lillard. “He’s reaching many goals. He loves letters, calendars and math.” Lillard has shared their story with many others, and says “it makes a difference to have others around you who are going through something similar. It makes me feel like I made the right choice.”

Children from birth to 3 years old may be provided services in conjunction with Midland County ESA’s Early On Program with every effort made to deliver services in the child’s natural environment. 

The ESA offers services including:
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Occupational and physical therapy
  • School social work
  • Teacher consultant for the hearing impaired and visually impaired
  • Audiological services
  • Assistive technology
  • School psychologists
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder consultant

For more information, contact the Midland County ESA’s Early On Program at 989-492-7700 ext. 1127.