Readers that know me are aware that I have a special place in my heart for children who have disabilities.  I wanted to explain about how that affects my work in today’s post.

In The Prodigal Father (From Five Star Expressions), the heroine’s two year old daughter, Risa, has Down syndrome. She will soon turn three and transition from the Birth to Three Program to the public school’s Early Childhood class.  The Birth to Three Program is a federally and state funded program that provides help for children under the age of three who have significant developmental delays.  This help may take the form of speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, early education, and assistance in gaining access to appropriate government assistance programs.

My youngest daughter has Down syndrome.   She was born six weeks early, when we were getting ready to move from Illinois back to my home state of Wisconsin.  She was supposed to be born about a month after our move, but my little girl had other ideas.  Coping with a new community and a new child who has unexpected health problems was a huge challenge.  I was completely lost – until I met our Birth to Three services coordinator.

Our doctor in Illinois would not release my daughter from the hospital until he was sure we had a new pediatrician lined up in Wisconsin and that the Birth to Three Program had my daughter on their list of clients.  And I’m very glad he did!  My Birth to Three services coordinator soon became my best friend – literally.  My book is dedicated to her and to all the Birth to Three professionals out there.

She helped my family manage my daughter’s health problems, found community resources for us and even came with me to some of my daughter’s doctor’s appointments at The Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee.  Our therapists were great sources of information and encouragement.  If you have never had a child with developmental delays in your family, chances are you haven’t heard of the Birth to Three Program.  I think it is worth knowing about, no matter what your circumstances are because these wonderful, caring, dedicated professionals are true heroes.

Transition out of Birth to Three was a scary time for me.  I definitely planted some of my own feelings into Beth’s, my heroine’s heart on this.  Luckily for my daughter and for hers, there was a great public school program waiting to take over.  The school program does not extend it’s support to the whole family as well as the Birth to Three Program, but I guess after three years, we were ready to stand on our own feet.

I worked for a year or so (in between library jobs.  Budget cuts, you know.) as an aide in the early childhood classroom for our school district.  This was several years after my own daughter had moved into elementary school.  As an aide I met many beautiful children with great potential inside them.  One such little girl had verbal dispraxia.  Messages from her brain did not always make it to her mouth and speaking was extremely difficult for this bright, loving little girl.  She became the inspiration for Charity in my Orchard Hill story “Accepting Charity.”

I feel it is a great privilege to write about children like this who overcome many obstacles just to participate in daily life.  I have been blessed by knowing them and hope to convey that blessing to my readers.

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