'Bright Start' program helping children with disabilities in Tulare County

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- She suffered a stroke while still in her mother's womb and had a high heart rate.

Her mother says there were times they didn't know if Amelia would even survive.

She eventually outgrew the high heart rate, but the stroke left some lasting developmental impacts-on her feet and arms.

"She wasn't crawling yet, she wasn't meeting the skills that she needed to meet," said Amelia's mother Emily Hager. "So we knew there was something more than she needed. And then we started therapy and they got
her to start crawling, walking (in) a few months, so they've been really great."

Emily Hager is talking about 'Bright Start', a Tulare County Office of Education early intervention program, currently serving more than 1,000 families throughout Tulare County.

Program referrals come from a variety of people and providers, but most often, they come from the Central Valley Regional Center.

There, all families are assessed for program eligibility based on their level of delay in several categories.

"They assess cognitive abilities, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, communications skills, adaptive skills, social skills, and then based on the level of delay, that's what makes them eligible for early intervention services,' said 'Bright Start' Program Manager Ron Pekarek.

Once a week, 'Bright Start' teacher Michelle Branco visits the home of Amelia's grandmother-who babysits her during the day.

"When she hears teacher Michelle's coming and when she sees her, she screams cause she's so excited to see Michelle," said Amelia's grandmother Grace De Hoog.

"We really want to make an impact in their environment where they spend a lot of time," said Branco.

When Branco first started working with Amelia, they focused heavily on the motor skills-and she's made significant strides in that area.

Also present at a recent home visit-a 'Bright Start' physical therapist, who checked on Amelia's leg braces, and gave mom and grandma some suggestions to help her mobility.

"You know it's great to work with a kid and make a difference for a child, but if I can make the family make sense of what we're doing and why we're doing it, that really makes the early intervention happen, that's why it works, is when families buy in," said Branco.

The Hager family went all in, and because of that, Amelia is closing the gap on her developmental delay.

Branco says she's an independent little girl, whose vocabulary is also starting to blossom.

Amelia is two-years-old now, and when she turns three, she'll leave the 'Bright Start' program.

Making room for another child who could also use some help after a tough start to life. Ready to come out and participate, no matter what they're facing.
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