Early Childhood Screening by the Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative detected some speech and language delay for a then 2-year-old.

The following therapy resulted in success for Teagan Ashcraft and his parents, Kristin and Clayton, of Darby.

This year's round of early childhood screenings are getting underway in the Bitterroot Valley starting next week.

At age 2, Teagan started at Little Tiger’s day care, the daycare provider recommended he attend the free developmental screening by the Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative. He did and was on the top of the charts in all areas of testing except there were some concerns about his speech and language development.

Kristin Ashcraft said that both she and her husband are, “not the most talkative people.”

“We are more on the shy, quiet side,” she said. “I don’t know if that contributed to his quietness also.”

Speech-Language Pathologist Terese Athman met with the parents and offered suggestions for activities to stimulate expressive speech and language development that they could do at home. She encouraged them to contact Childhood Development Center (CDC) in Missoula for a second evaluation and additional support.

“We had someone come once a month to teach us how to not just play, but be more engaging with him with speech,” Ashcraft said. “With being shy people sometimes initiating conversation is not the easiest thing to do.”

The family worked with the CDC for six-months and set goals where Teagan was struggling or needed extra attention.

“Mostly we were concerned that he couldn’t express what he wanted or what he didn’t want someone to do,” Ashcraft said. “Like if he wanted to eat something specifically I couldn’t understand it or if someone took his toy, he couldn’t tell kids at the preschool he was still playing with it.”

Communication was expressed in gestures and a few words.

“One of the first goals was him being able to express his need to go to the bathroom with words,” Ashcraft said. “It doesn’t sound extreme but when you’re potty-training a two-year-old it is really helpful. It’s not that we were frustrated, it’s more like we were worried. Maybe it took a couple of minutes to tell me he wanted milk when that should have taken a couple of seconds.”

When he aged out of CDC, Teagan transitioned to school-based speech therapy services and the team of parents, speech-therapist and preschool teacher developed an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to help him overcome severe speech/language delay, limited expressive vocabulary and a reluctance to attempt to speak.

“We started with his vocabulary of 25 to 40 words and expanded it,” Ashcraft said. “We checked it every couple of months.”

Athman provided direct therapy and coached parents to read books every day and provide modeling.

By Christmas, Teagan was saying two-word phrases at home and he was talking throughout his 45-minute weekly therapy sessions. The parents noticed that Teagan was saying the names of colors, animals and other words and short phrases that he learned in therapy.

“His vocabulary went to 50 -75 then jumped to 125, then the length of sentences,” Ashcraft said. “We had check-in points along the way. Like he could say, ‘one, two, three’ but we wanted him to be able to say the words and count to ten.”

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By spring, Teagan was spontaneously talking, communicating and showing confidence with preschool peers, the teacher and at home.

“It was really a progression,” Ashcraft said. “The lesson plans just built on each other, starting with the beginning letters of the word, then the last letter, then vowels. It was a progression starting with shorter words, then longer words, then a couple of word sentences.”

Ashcraft said that in addition to Teagan’s weekly therapy, she met with Athman every other month about his progress and received additional things to do at home.

After a summer break, school and therapy began this fall.

By the end of September his report said, “That while he is quite with new listeners, he demonstrates great progress and is a cooperative, enjoyable student who is excited to express his thoughts and knowledge verbally throughout his day.”

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Ashcraft said that now that he can talk with peers and adults she sees a happier child with less frustration, even though he is not always understood.

She recommends other parents take their children to the Early Childhood screening.

“I would imagine that the results are kid dependent,” she said. “He understood everything, he just wasn’t able to express it verbally. I am his parent but I’m not a teacher by trade and both dad and I are shy, quiet people.”

She credits the Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative, CDC and school speech therapist in helping their family by helping her know ways to engage her son in conversation and encourage verbal interactions.

“Other parents can learn the tips like if you’re playing say, ‘this is a red block,’ or ‘hand me the blue truck,’ rather than just saying ‘hand me that toy,’” Ashcraft said. “I think it is helpful to give parents those ideas. If my daycare provider hadn’t told me about the screening Teagan wouldn’t have started as early as he did.”

Athman said there are many benefits of the Early Childhood screening including getting immediate answers about the child’s developmental progress.

“Often concerns can be allayed with suggestions given for home 'play' and ideas to support their child's continued development,” Athman said. “If areas of concern are identified, early identification and remedial interventions are the key to removal and amelioration of the stumbling blocks, allowing and supporting the child's continued development with greater ease of skill acquisition. It is an awesome way to join forces with the parents to support their child.”

The free developmental screenings for children age birth through age 5 are being conducted Nov. 4 – 8 thoughout the valley. The screenings test speech/language, cognitive, motor skills, hearing and vision. They can determine if a child is on track for learning to talk or speak clearly; walking, running or climbing; using their hands to play, dress or feed themselves; learning colors, shapes or letters, following directions and making eye-contact.

Children can attend the location most convenient for them, appointments are preferred but walk-ins are accepted.

Parents can bring their children to the Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative early childhood screenings from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday, Nov. 4, at Darby Elementary School, 406-821-1315; from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Pinesdale Academy, 406-961-3055; from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Corvallis Primary School, 406-961-3261; and from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, Nov. 11, at Bitterroot Valley Co-op Preschool in Stevensville, 406-777-5613.

Early Childhood Screening, also called Child Find, provides evaluation and early intervention or special education services.

For more information call Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative at 406-777-2494, x 110.