Early Childhood Development In Central Nebraska

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"You know, you look at her and she smiles and it's just reassuring. She's a total gift," Erin Dunagan said.

Rowan Dunagan, Erin's 2-year-old daughter, smiles without effort, but this little girl has to work at things that come naturally to most kids her age. Dunagan is one of hundreds in central Nebraska enrolled in the Early Development Network, or E.D.N., a program dedicated to teaching children and their families how to overcome disability in the first years of life.

"At about 9 months old we were noticing some developmental delays," Erin said. "It was around that time that we had an M.R.I. done. We found out at that point that she had a rare brain malformation."

Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria, or B.P.P. usually means muscle paralysis and possible intellectual obstacles for those with the condition. When parents in part of central Nebraska find their kids struggling with such disabilities, E.D.N. is there.

"We will work with parents and families in their home or we'll work with the daycare providers," school psychologist Mindy Moyer said. "Research tells us that kids are going to make the most progress when they are in their natural environment."

Each child is assigned a primary coach and service coordinators from St. Francis Medical Center. The coach works to find everyday ways of helping students learn essential life skills. However, the Early Development Network doesn't just teach the kids.

"We don't want to say we know more about your child than you do," Moyer said. "We maybe have a specific set of skills that the parent may not have. So, we want to work with them and be able to help them."

The Central Nebraska Support Service Program started E.D.N. about 10 years ago and Assistant Director Renee Engel says the current format is working.

"Research shows that utilizing a primary coach model is very beneficial for children and their families," Engel said.

The model is working so well, it's one of the methods recommended in a new state regulation known as "rule 52", which is geared toward the services provided to kids ages 2 and younger.

"This was a journey we never imagined we'd be on," Erin said. "It was really nice to have a conversation in our home each time about goals, different ideas and ways to help her grow and develop and just do the best that we can."