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Strasburg family advocates for early intervention funding

Brandon and Maria Wakefield of Strasburg sit with their twin one year-old daughters Mikaela, left, and Lorelei, right, in the living room of their home on Tuesday. Lorelei, who has Down Syndrome, is ahead of the curve in developmental process that Maria credits to early intervention help. Rich Cooley/Daily

Brandon Wakefield of Strasburg holds his 1year-old daughter Lorelei. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter

Maria Wakefield knows first-hand the positive impact that early intervention can have on a child, since one of her daughters might not have had much success without it.

Wakefield gave birth to twin girls on March 1, 2011, which was seven weeks earlier than expected. Lorelei and Mikaela were delivered by C-section, safely, but while they were being cleaned a neonatologist told Wakefield and her husband Brandon that Lorelei was having difficulty breathing.

Later on, the first-time parents learned that Lorelei was displaying some physical characteristics of Down syndrome. After two surgeries at UVA and a two month stay in the NICU, the Wakefields got Lorelei started with early intervention. An evaluation was conducted through the Infant and Toddler Connection in Front Royal a week after Lorelei came home.

In a letter supporting early intervention funding for last Friday's state budget hearing in Middletown, Maria Wakefield wrote, "We did not waste any time. ... Since then, we have had nothing but success with Lorelei's progress!"

The Wakefields, through the organization in Front Royal, found their daughter a developmental specialist and physical therapist. At 6 months, Lorelei was rolling over, and now at 22 months "she can walk and run."

Her mother says the toddler can dance, sign up to 30 signs, say eight to 10 words and take directions from other individuals besides her and her husband.

"She is very friendly and outgoing," Wakefield said. "I think these attributes will only lead to her success when she begins school."

Now, Lorelei has been released from physical therapy, and most likely will continue working with the developmental specialist until she turns 3.

"We would not be where we are today if we did not have these individuals coming into our home, giving us pointers and telling us exactly what to work on each time," her mother wrote.

Maria Wakefield said it's "fantastic" that her daughter is ahead of the curve when following the milestones set for children with Down syndrome, but admits it wouldn't have turned out that way without the help from experts.

"She probably wouldn't be walking yet," she said Tuesday afternoon. "We learned about her low muscle tone, ways to try and fix that, and we got her ankle braces ... we wouldn't know anything about this stuff otherwise."

Thanks to Virginia's Elderly or Disabled with Consumer Direction Waiver, Lorelei is covered under Medicaid, which helps pay for different services and care she receives. The Wakefields also get financial assistance to go toward respite care.

"We were really proactive in doing what we could for Lorelei, and I know other parents like us could benefit from people coming into the home to not only help their children, but also just to give the parents some confidence," Maria Wakefield said. "We learned to set both our children on high expectation levels ... our goals for our daughters are no different just because one has Down syndrome."

Both Maria and Brandon Wakefield are teachers in Warren County Public Schools, and they said that seeing disabled students made them realize even more how important the early intervention was, and how it lends itself to success in the public school setting.

On Wednesday, the 2013 General Assembly convened for a legislative information session. Emily Griffy, senior policy analyst for Voices for Virginia's Children, said the organization has been paying close attention to funding for early care and education leading up to the session.

"In the arena of early care and education, we are focused on ensuring that infants and toddlers with developmental delays receive treatment and services through the early intervention program," she said. "Due to an increase in the number of children being identified for services and seeking help, Virginia faces an $8 million shortfall in this category of federally mandated services."

While the governor's budget announcement included $3 million in each year of the biennium to begin to close this shortfall, it did not provide enough funding to serve all of the families in need, Griffey said.

Maria Wakefield agrees that the funding for early intervention services needs to grow.

"We needed the financial help, even though the government might not consider us as financially needy," she said. "I know there are children with disabilities in this state who are part of low income families ... the funding will be help in every aspect to ensure these children get as many opportunities for success as possible."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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