FAMILIES IN FUNDING CUT CONCERN.
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.