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Preschool helps children with early interventions

POSTED: November 13, 2013 12:57 a.m.

Will Barrett, center, is given a standing ovation following his speech during the annual breakfast for Champions for Children at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center.

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Will Barrett’s success story is just beginning.

The North Hall High sophomore is involved in several classes and activities at school, but the story of the 2003 Challenged Child & Friends graduate could have been very different if he had not attended the inclusive preschool.

“I have Asperger’s (syndrome),” he said. “As you may know, that is a special form of autism. ... Early intervention is essential for kids like me.”

Barrett was speaking at the Champions for Children breakfast, hosted by Challenged Child & Friends on Tuesday as a way to thank its 2013 financial supporters.

The nonprofit is an “early intervention and preschool center” for both children with special needs as well as their typically developing peers, according to Executive Director David Earnest.

“From the beginning of these children’s lives, they are mixed together in classroom settings,” Earnest said. “So our children with disabilities are able to develop relationships, they can compete, they learn alongside of their typically developing friends. And the typically developing children ... they become friends, and I think they also develop a sort of empathy for children (and) people who are different.”

The program accepts children as young as 6 weeks, up to 6 years of age. Along with teachers and paraprofessionals, medical professionals and therapists are on staff so children who need therapy can get it at school rather than going to an outside specialist.

Ashley Ellis has two children in Challenged Child; her oldest is a 3-year-old with special needs.

“She’s just made so much progress,” Ellis said. “She wasn’t able to sit up on her own, she wasn’t meeting her milestones (when she started at Challenged Child). Now, she’s about to start walking.”

Ellis also has a 10-month-old infant, who does not have special needs, in the program.

Earnest said Challenged Child is designed to be all-inclusive.

“(Children with special needs) need an opportunity to be a child, not a diagnosis,” he said. “(They need) an opportunity to just be as typical of a child as possible, and that’s what we provide.”

The nonprofit relies on donations from companies and individuals to continue its programs for the nearly 300 children it serves. Tuesday’s event was not only to thank the 2013 sponsors, but also to look forward to 2014.

Funding helps provide therapists, technology and other adaptive equipment for children like Barrett.

After graduating from the program 10 years ago, Barrett moved on to public school and has seemingly enjoyed a “typical” childhood.

He is a member of North Hall High’s Key Club and Chinese Society; he’s also on the school newspaper staff.

Barrett said he is often reminded by his mother that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

“I know she’s right,” he said. “So I’m working hard.”


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