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County has program to help children with disability

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Ellsworth, 54011

Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

The first three years of a child's life are the most important in terms of development in whether they can learn, move, communicate, relate with others or do the daily tasks needed each day.

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If a child is delayed or has a disability that hinders or makes them unable to do any of those tasks, federal legislation was passed in the 1970s to provide services for those who needed it. The legislation made its way down to the state level and, by the mid 1980s, it was mandatory nationwide. In Pierce County, the name of the program is called Birth to 3.

"Our goal is to give any child the right need to grow and develop to their best potential," said Sara Sabelko, Pierce County's Birth to 3 coordinator since 2001.

Sabelko explained that, if she gets a referral, whether from parents, daycare providers or physicians; providers, who aren't county employees, but are contracted out, will set up a visit to get background information and complete a screening to determine eligibility.

If a child has a diagnosed condition, such as Down's Syndrome or Autism, they'll automatically be eligible. As a result, Sabelko said, they've helped babies one week after coming home from the hospital because they've already been diagnosed.

For children who are delayed, an evaluation will be done and a determination will be made whether the services provided will be able to help them along.

However, Sabelko added, if the parents don't want their children in the program, it's their right. They must give written consent for any evaluations, assessments or services because participation in the program is voluntary.

Once in the program, the children will receive instruction every single day from parents or childcare providers. The plan will be reviewed every six months.

"We want to work with the child and make them better," she said.

On average, the program handles about 25 children. To show how much autism has risen, when Sabelko first started, only one child was diagnosed with autism, for example. Now, that number is up to three to four.

Sabelko said the program, which is part of the Pierce County Public Health Department, isn't for just children, as the family receives additional support. For example, a public health nurse assists the parents with medical information.

"We're dealing with fragile kids," Sabelko said. "Parents need to know what's going on."

If needed, a social worker is also available for parents, as Sabelko said, "they need to know their child is going to be okay."

For more information about the Birth to 3 program, call 273-6755.

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