When we focused on our Tree of Hope campaign for our weekly stories, many of the families we spoke with mentioned members of our Family Development Center team, so we thought we would highlight their program this month.
Heather came to DSC as an intern in January of 2017 and was hired as a Developmental Therapist in June of 2017. She is also a PLAY Project Consultant. PLAY Project is a national program that DSC is able to offer locally. PLAY (Play & Language with Autistic Youngsters) is an evidence-based program for toddlers and preschoolers. In the program, Heather is a coach for parents on a variety of topics related to communication and social interactions.
The therapy helps parents to reach their child, when they’re having difficulties with communication and social interactions. In most cases, the child is showing red flags for autism, or has already received a diagnosis. Some of those indicators include, difficulty with communication and social interaction, lack of eye contact, some form of repetitive/restrictive behavior or difficulties in sensory processing. If you think your child might be showing some of these behaviors, Heather suggests getting a referral for Early Intervention (if under the age of 3) and seeking out a Developmental Pediatrician, who can give you a referral for services for therapies like PLAY Project.
One of the benefits of PLAY Project is that the consultant comes to your home. Heather said that she captures video, writes a review on these videos, and creates a PLAY Plan based on each individual child and the family’s needs. The PLAY Plan is used with the goal of helping the child move forward on the functional developmental scale. “It’s all about helping the child and parents play together and have fun. That’s my favorite part. Seeing progress and those moments when the parent and child connect.”
Developmental Therapists like Heather, have gone through training to receive their PLAY Project certification, in addition to meeting other qualifications to be eligible to go through the training. If a child is receiving Early Intervention services, the family can add Play Project to their IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) and it will be covered through Early Intervention. However, once a child turns three, Early Intervention will not cover the program. DSC is therefore only able to offer PLAY Project to families with children outside of the Early Intervention ages through grant funding.
Heather also has a unique point of view because not only is she a Developmental Therapist, but she is also a parent of a son with autism. “I understand what it’s like from the parent’s perspective because I sit on their side of the table too. My best advice is don’t be afraid to ask for help and know you’re not alone in this. There are many other families going through this with you.”
Her son is now nine and they enjoying making comics together and playing hide-n-seek. He also likes to piddle around the garage with her husband. Heather also likes jewelry making and gardening and is a huge Harry Potter fan.