Grateful parents praise program for disabled infants


Shellene Cornish remembers the day she and her husband took their 8-month-old daughter Amber to the county's Infants and Toddlers Program.

Amber had cerebral palsy, a reality her mother was having trouble accepting.

"We were not ready to deal with the fact that our daughter might not be able to talk or walk like you or I do," Cornish said. "I was in denial."

Over two years have passed since that first visit, and Cornish has nothing but praise for the program.

"The staff has been great," she said. "They helped us to purchase equipment, a special wheelchair Amber needed. The support groups have been great. I don't know what we would have done without the program."

Cornish, whose daughter is now 3, is a member of the Interagency Coordinating Council for the Infants and Toddlers program. The council, which includes about 20 parents, educators, therapists and politicians, met Friday to review the program.

The program, which runs during the school year at a cost of $1.2 million, is designed for children up to 3 years old. By assessing the problems of children with disabilities at an early age, the program seeks to reduce the need for special education classes later. It also tries to prepare students with severe disabilities to enter a school setting.

Formerly known as the Parent Infant Program, the effort has undergone some changes during the past year.

"We are seeing more and more children who have been identified as eligible," program director Ed Feinberg said. "We are moving toward year-round services. The services provided during the summer will be more conservative than the services ** provided during the school year."

The cost of providing services during the summer months will run about $40,000, Feinberg said. The amount will have to be built into future budgets just as the federal, state and regional governments are reducing support for the program.

A program manager and three service coordinators have been added to the program's staff of 19. But the additional positions are not enough to handle the increase in children joining up, Feinberg added.

Parents like Vicki Surlerzyski commend the program and its employees for all they have done with their limited staff and resources. Surlerzyski and her 33-month-old daughter, Hope, came when Hope was only 6 months old.

The girl, who was born prematurely, is tactile defensive and does not like to be touched. But she has benefited greatly, Surlerzyski said.

"The staff has helped her adjust to touch," she said. "They helped to find her a preschool when a lot of places didn't want to take a child with her special needs. They helped me as a parent to understand that it's not my fault.

"This program is wonderful. It needs to be available to everyone," she added.

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