Cheryl Granzo has an important message for parents who wonder if their young child might have a developmental delay: It’s never too late to seek early intervention.
“In Michigan, we are fortunate to have early intervention services available to families through our educational system from birth,” said Granzo, an experienced childhood intervention professional. Granzo supervises special education programs for children 0-5 at the Ionia County Intermediate School District.
She works with both Early On® Michigan, which offers early intervention services to children ages 0-3, and also Build Up Michigan, which provides specialized supports and services to children ages 3-5. Both programs are statewide initiatives by the Michigan Department of Education that are available via intermediate and/or local school districts.
“Research has proved the earlier you intervene, the better the outcome for children,” Granzo said. “In fact, 90% of brain development occurs within the first five years of life. If your child has a delay or disability, accessing services anytime during this critical time frame is going to benefit your child.”
Children’s development can vary. “However, there are predictable stages and skills that we can observe and expect in even the youngest children,” said Granzo, who encourages parents not to hesitate to seek assistance if they have a concern about their child’s development.
“Becoming aware that your child may have a delay and may need special education can be very scary for families,” Granzo said. “I would just say, try not to fear the unknown, get the evaluation, and learn more about your child’s needs and how Early On and/or Build Up services can help them. Be proud and confident that you are doing what you need to do for your child.”
With 30 years of experience in early childhood intervention, Granzo knows of which she speaks.
In fact, her contributions to the field were recently recognized on a statewide level when Granzo was named the 2019 recipient of the Jane Scandary Award for Excellence in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education. Michigan’s Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children bestows this award annually to an outstanding Michigan professional for contributions to the field of early intervention or early childhood special education, or an individual who has made major and significant contributions to young children with special needs and their families in the state.
The award is named after Emma Jane Scandary, who in 1945 began her career as a speech and language therapist and teacher of the deaf. Scandary then worked in school districts throughout Michigan before culminating her career as a state hearing officer and consultant at the Michigan Department of Education.
Granzo herself started as a speech therapist in the mid-80s in a center program in Montcalm County, with infants and toddlers who did not have access to speech services until they came to school. After three years, she moved to the Ionia County ISD and obtained her endorsement as an early childhood special education teacher and special education supervisor.
“I was working in early intervention before we were fully aware of the benefits,” Granzo said. “I was hooked from the beginning, and it has definitely kept my interest. There have always been things to work on and improve based upon evolving research.”
‘Early intervention is best’
But one aspect of early intervention has remained constant: Addressing developmental delays as early as possible – when young minds are most easily shaped and influenced – is the ideal way to help children reach their full potential, Granzo said.
“Early intervention is best,” she stated.
In Michigan, early intervention services are provided primarily by two programs:
Early On, and special education services in which specialists conduct regular home visits with children birth to age 3 who have been identified as having developmental delays or established health conditions.
Build Up, which encompasses the variety of preschool special education programs and related services available to 3- to 5-year-olds in their local school district or their area’s intermediate school district.
These programs share one important characteristic: Both are provided at no charge to families. They are also similar in that eligibility is determined through evaluations by several specialists, and children must meet specific criteria outlined by state policy.
Anyone concerned about a child’s well-being, including parents and physicians, can make a referral to Early On or Build Up that starts a child’s eligibility process for these services.
Often, children will transition from Early On to Build Up services, but sometimes Build Up is a child’s first experience with intervention services.
While it’s ideal to begin early intervention as soon as possible, developmental delays are not always immediately identified, Granzo has said. For example, first-time parents might not recognize the signs, or what was acceptable as a 2-year-old might not be developmentally appropriate at age 3.
“The older you get, the more expectations you have developmentally, especially when it comes to speech development, which encompass many of our referrals in the birth-to-5 age range,” Granzo said.
It’s never too late!
But make no mistake: Build Up preschool services alone can have a significant impact on a child’s development.
“Entering the education system and receiving those specialized supports as a 3-year-old will certainly put you on a better course to be successful in school.”
Once a child is deemed eligible for Build Up preschool special education, parents and educators will meet to develop an individual education plan (IEP). The plan identifies the student’s strengths, needs and services the child will receive to reach the goals established in the IEP.
Depending on the nature of the developmental delay or disability, the child could achieve those goals before entering kindergarten, Granzo said. There’s also the possibility the student will always require special education services, she said.
Regardless, early intervention is always worthwhile as it can lessen the impact of a disability on the child’s overall functioning in school, she said.
“What you’re looking for is the child to develop to his or her full potential, whatever that might be, and intervening early with specialized supports is a way to do that.”