Several years ago I was working in the Early Intervention program as an intake coordinator. I visited more than 600 babies, in-home, over a period of two years.

Early Intervention programs are for babies ages birth to 3 years. Participation in EI programs is voluntary and is intended to help families who have children with special needs.

This invaluable program assists families to understand their child's special needs, obtain support to help with their child's growth and development, and provide the best conditions for their child's growth and development.

While working in the EI program, I met wonderful families, who were adjusting to a major transition. Birthing a baby with special needs is life changing.

Think of being in a delivery room when you and your spouse learn for the first time that your baby has Down syndrome.

Or later, imagine a visit to your pediatrician, when the doctor diagnoses your baby with cerebral palsy or blindness.

Fifty years ago, parents with special needs newborns or toddlers were on their own.

Can you imagine a child’s delay, waiting five years for any support for their child?

Anyway, once a baby qualifies for the EI program, some may meet the criteria for physical, occupational, speech, or behavioral services, and receive those services in-home.

Years ago, while working in the EI program, I scheduled an appointment to meet with a young couple who had a 2-year-old son.

When I read the referral for services, I noticed the words, “child was talking and suddenly stopped.

“The child’s behavior has grown a bit aggressive.”

I was excited to visit the home. I enjoyed meeting the parents. I loved bringing them hope and direction.

After all, my daughter was in one of the first early intervention programs in the country.

The program was priceless to me. I was a new mom and had no idea what cerebral palsy was.

Anyway, back to the couple I was to meet, with the rambunctious 2-year-old . . .

I knocked on the family’s front door. They welcomed me inside and immediately locked the door behind me.

They led me to the basement family room, locking the door at the top of the stairs.

When I entered the family room, they locked the door behind me.

To say I was not anxious would have been a lie.

However, I sat down praying for a safe visit.

The parents looked at me and whispered, “Do you see what our son is doing?”

I walked over to their son and noticed that he was lining up toy cars along the four walls of the room.

I smiled and asked the parents if he could talk. They whispered again, “He used to talk, but not anymore.”

They called him over and he flew across the back of the sofa and landed by me.

I smiled at him and told him how cute he was. I also happened to have a toy car in my purse, so, we immediately became good friends.

The end of the story, yes, their 2-year-old had autism.

The parents joined the ranks of some pretty amazing parents.

Everything worked out. Their child received services and by kindergarten he was doing very well.

The parents had also adjusted, and were assisting other families just like theirs.

I pay tribute to all in Missouri who work within the First Steps program, Missouri’s Early Intervention.

Thank you to the extraordinary coordinators, therapists, counselors, and support teams. You do remarkable work.

And to the parents, you are amazing. You can do this. I’m praying for you.

-- Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County’s Family Week Foundation. Email her at director@jacksoncountyfamilyweek.org or visit www.jacksoncountyfamilyweek.org.