Drogheda Independent - - FRONT PAGE - BY FIONA MAGENNIS

Lit­tle Sarah Sludds from Mornington is just three but al­ready rel­ishes the chal­lenge of playschool, which she at­tends lo­cally two morn­ings a week.

Her en­thu­si­asm and love for art, singing and story time is thanks in no small part to the help she has re­ceived al­ready from the Louth/Meath Branch of Down Syn­drome Ire­land’s Early In­ter­ven­tion Pro­gramme.

Sarah has re­ceived up to two hours of one to one tu­ition ev­ery fort­night since she was one with teacher Heather O’Con­nor and Mum Su­san said it’s thanks to this that she has come on in leaps and bounds over the past two years.

Su­san and her hus­band Henry were dev­as­tated to dis­cover that plans are in the off­ing to cut fund­ing for the ser­vice by 60% and wor­ries what that will mean for the fu­ture of the pro­gramme that has proved to be so in­stru­men­tal in her daugh­ter’s devel­op­ment.

‘ This ser­vice is ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic. I can’t rave enough about it enough. Sarah adores her teacher, Heather. She’s three now and Heather has brought her own so much,’ said Su­san.

‘She is now us­ing Lámh, which helps her to com­mu­ni­cate, and she has to say the word too. She uses signs for colours, or for brush­ing her teeth or brush­ing her hair. We did a course with En­able Ire­land so that we could use it with her as well,’ Su­san ex­plained.

‘Heather does mu­sic with her be­cause a lot of the chil­dren find it eas­ier to sing than to talk, so she does nurs­ery rhymes, plays the tam­bourine. She has a cur­ricu­lum laid out fol­lows that and does dif­fer­ent ex­er­cises with her.’

Su­san said the re­sults of this early in­ter­ven­tion have been re­mark­able, de­spite a set­back early on when Sarah was di­ag­nosed with Leukaemia when she was just one.

‘Her at­ten­tion span has im­proved, she knows how to sit at the ta­ble now and she al­ways sits at the ta­ble for her lessons. She knows that the les­son al­ways starts with a story and then moves on to shapes, colours, count­ing dif­fer­ent ob­jects.

Sarah, who has an older brother Harry (7) and sis­ter Stephanie (10), has started two morn­ings a week in the lo­cal creche where she has set­tled in with ease.

‘She goes to playschool there and even her teach­ers there can’t get over how well she is do­ing. She sits, she lis­tens she loves do­ing art. I main­tain it’s all from the work that Heather has done with her since she was one. What she has achieved with her is phe­nom­e­nal. It’s all about giv­ing her a level play­ing field with her peers,’ said Su­san.

‘She’s hold­ing her own with chil­dren her own age and that’s so im­por­tant.

‘It’s about help­ing her reach her mile­stones and help­ing her reach her goals in the fu­ture. That’s re­ally what we are fight­ing for, that we are giv­ing them a level play­ing field that ev­ery child has the right start and the right build­ing blocks to give them a chance.

‘I’m very con­fi­dent now putting her name down in the lo­cal na­tional school be­cause I know she could hold her own and it’s be­cause she got the ground­ing with the Early In­ter­ven­tion Pro­gramme.’

Sarah’s progress is all the more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties she faced shortly af­ter start­ing the Early In­ter­ven­tion Pro­gramme.

A month af­ter her first birth­day, Su­san and Henry were left stunned and dev­as­tated when their daugh­ter was di­ag­nosed with AML Leukemia.

‘Once we got over the ini­tial shock and got over the worst of the treat­ment and were con­fi­dent that they could cure it our worry was that it would set her back in terms of her devel­op­ment.

‘She wasn’t walk­ing or talk­ing at that stage and there were is­sues with her eat­ing but she is a lit­tle trouper, a fighter and through all that time Heather made sure she didn’t miss a les­son.

‘Crum­lin were con­cerned that she wouldn’t hit her mile­stones as a re­sult of be­ing sick but they are very happy with her progress. Heather made sure she saw her for lessons, she went over and be­yond her du­ties, she came up and vis­ited Sarah and brought her books while she was in hos­pi­tal.

‘If we lost the early in­ter­ven­tion now it would be dev­as­tat­ing. Heather is a fan­tas­tic lady and she has helped Sarah so much, she’s fly­ing now and I main­tain it’s be­cause she got a good groud­ing.

‘It’s such an amaz­ing, well run ser­vice and it’s all done on a vol­un­tary ba­sis ex­cept for the teach­ers. It’s just very frus­trat­ing when they cut the grants be­cause when you see the progress the kids make, all the par­ents rave about it and we all agree it’s just amaz­ing. It’s a rel­a­tively small amount in the grand scheme of things but it means so much to us.’

Sarah Sludds with her brother Harry and sis­ter Stephanie. In­set, with mum, Su­san.

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