Cognitive disabilities. Physical disabilities. Learning disabilities. Learning differences. So many terms, so many diagnoses. Some take years to diagnose, while others are known before birth.

“All children with special needs can benefit from early intervention,” says Darbi Philibert, a pediatric occupational therapist in New Orleans who works with the EarlySteps program as well as older, private clients. She says that often when parents are first told that there’s something wrong with their child but that there’s a state program available to help, “they’ll kind of get scared off—thinking that it’s some kind of Medicaid or whatever. It’s not.”
 
While the process can be overwhelming, there are programs available—public, like EarlySteps, and more, and private—to help you make sure that your child’s needs are being met.
 
Public Programs Offering Services


Child Find

     Helps identify children—ages three through 21 years—who may need special education services and is a federal program administered by the Louisiana Department of Education. Parents may use Child Find to help them determine what to do if they think their child may have a special learning problem or disability (also, if a child is gifted or talented).
     With parental permission, a local school system may employ the following to determine if a child has a learning problem or disability: free screening to learn if the child should be evaluated; an evaluation to see what type of help the child may need, based on screening and/or progress monitoring; services such as special education instruction, speech services, occupational therapy services, physical therapy, school psychological services, and/or school social work services.
     “Any public school in [a family’s] area should, by law, provide all of the necessary support, assistance, and services to their child at no cost,” says Melanie Forstall Lemoine, Ph.D., co-director of the Louisiana State Personnel Development Grant. [For children ages birth through age three, contact EarlySteps (see below); from age three through 21, call 1.877.453.2721 and ask to speak with the State Child Find Coordinator]

Children’s Special Health Services

     A program of services for children, ages birth to 21, who have special health care needs and meet financial guidelines. Among the services provided are health care for children with certain chronic physical or serious disabilities which cause (or are likely to cause) significant limitations on major life activities; medical equipment and supplies; therapy; home health services; parent/family support services; medications and special diets; care coordination, case management, and resume development. [Administered by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Office of Public Health, you can reach them at 504.896.1340]

EarlySteps

     Louisiana’s early intervention program, is designed for newborns to age three with disabilities and developmental delays. It enables specialized therapists to go into children’s homes or preschools to work with them. Beginning last May, due to severe budget cuts, the program implemented a revised, more restrictive eligibility criteria, limiting the number of children it serves.  Now to qualify for eligibility, a child must have at least two major developmental delays requiring intervention—i.e., speech and physical therapies; just one developmental delay will no longer result in EarlySteps acceptance.
     Local mom Cherie Franz says that through the EarlySteps program her now-six-year-old-son, who has an autism spectrum disorder, was able to have in-home therapy beginning at age two. “With the new changes to the eligibility rules, I don’t think my son would have qualified for anything,” she says.
EarlySteps is a great program, and despite the changes to eligibility requirements, parents are advised to investigate whether their children are able to take advantage of it. [1.866.327.5978, laeikids.com]
 

Programs Offering Support

The Autism Center at Children’s Hospital’s

     Existing services include comprehensive diagnostic evaluations for children and adolescents ages two – 21, medication management for those with a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, and a parent support group. Starting this January, they’ve expanded their services significantly to include parent education groups designed for families who have children newly diagnosed with an ASD, but all families are welcome; behavior management groups, which are designed for caregivers to learn behavior management techniques based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA); and social skills groups, which are specially for groups for children of different age ranges with an ASD designed to improve their social interaction skills. [For more information on any of these, contact Koren Boggs, Ph.D., 504.896.7272, [email protected].]

The Autism Society of Greater New Orleans

     A chapter of the national organization, it provides information and referrals, advocacy and support for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families. Among the services it provides is helping families identify qualified professionals in their communities and assisting families in securing benefits and services provided by law. [504.464.5733, asgno.org. They serve the Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and St. Tammany Parishes.]

Families Helping Families

     A family-driven resource centers that serve the community.  Every staff member has a family member with a disability, or is a self-advocate. In addition, a majority of board members must have a family member with a disability. FHS serves individuals with disabilities throughout the lifespan, from initial diagnosis through adulthood.  Core services include information and referral; education and training; and family to family support.
     “The Families Helping Families agencies are really a great place to start [a search for help],” says  Dr. Lemoine.  “They are a ‘one stop shop’ for families.” [There are three branches serving our readership: Families Helping Families of Southeast Louisiana (504.943.0343, fhfsela.org) serves families in the Orleans , Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes; Families Helping Families of Jefferson (504.888.9111, fhfjefferson.org) serves Jefferson Parish;  and Northshore Families Helping Families (985.875.0511 fhfnorthshore.org) serves the St. Tammany, Washington, Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Livingston Parishes.]

The Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council

     Comprises representatives from every region of the state who advocate for community services and support sought by individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Additionally, the council strives to increase the availability of support and appropriate rebalancing of Louisiana’s resources to better meet the needs of its citizens with disabilities and their families. [1.800.450.8108]

Educational Opportunities
Public schools, by law, should provide all of the necessary support, assistance, and services to a qualifying child at no cost; however, here are some other options available.
 
The Chartwell School
     Enrolls children age 3 – 21 whose learning differences place them along the autism spectrum. Currently the school serves children in three classrooms: pre-K, elementary, and its middle/high school PATH (Performing and Achieving Transitional Heights) program, which serves students age 12 – 21. [4239 Camp St., 504.899.2478, chartwell.org]

Ecole Classique

     The school works with children—from Pre-K – 12th grade—who have a variety of language-based disorders, including dyslexia. Some students have autism spectrum disorders or ADHD, but there is a language disorder involved. Ecole Classique launched its Learning Center Program 19 years ago as an alternative method to educating learning-different students.  Its teachers focus on developing literacy skills through experiential, multisensory learning experiences in multiage classrooms. The Learning Center Program extends from first through 12th grade.  [5236 Glendale St., Metairie, La., 504.887.3507, ecoleclassique.com]

Holy Rosary Academy and High School

     The pre-K–12th grade school works with students with various learning disabilities, including dyslexia, dysgraphia and some autism spectrum disorders. [2437 Jena St., New Orleans, LA, 504.482.7173, holyrosarynola.org]

Raphael Academy

     This is a new, Waldorf-inspired private school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities that may include, but are not restricted to, Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), Developmental Delay, ADD/ADHD and other conditions associated with intellectual disabilities.  Academy Director Jacqueline Case says that the school, for now, serves grades 6–10, and it will expand next year to offer vocational programs to those 21 and older.
     “In the early years, most families are still trying to figure out if their children will be mainstreamed,” she says. “By the sixth grade, they’re tired of trying to put a square peg in a round hole. That’s why we target that age group.”  [517 Soraparu St., 504.598.3227, raphaelacademy.org]

St. George’s Episcopal School

     A dynamic elementary school serving average to gifted students in a family-like atmosphere of care and concern.  Its faculty is staffed and equipped to handle a broad variety of learning styles and teaching requirements, including a limited number of students with mild learning difficulties. St. George’s School employs speech/language pathologists, reading specialists, and learning disability specialists to help students with learning strategies.
     “We want to make sure every child has not only those skills and tools needed to function effectively as a student,” says Elaine Eichberger, director of Admission, “but also to have the assurance, insight, and understanding that help an individual be happy in later life.” [923 Napoleon Ave., 504.891.5509, stgeorgesepiscopal.com]

St Michael Special School

     A Catholic, co-educational school for students with major learning difficulties ages six to 15 years old. Additionally, it offers vocational for ages 16 to 21, and sheltered work activities for adults. [1522 Chippewa St., 504.524.7285, stmichaelspecialschool.com]
 
St. Stanislaus College Preparatory School
     A boys’ Catholic boarding school for grades 7—12 and post-graduate students in Bay Saint Louis, Miss., have learning differences—including dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and some with high-functioning forms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome. The school’s emphasis on time management and a structured schedule by itself allows many of these students to thrive academically; intervention is available for any students needing additional assistance. The school is college prep, and 100 percentof its graduates do go onto college. [228.467.9057, ext. 226, ststan.com]

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