Fostering Care for Children with Developmental Disabilities

“I just want my child to be healthy,” are the most common hopeful words of expecting parents, and yet, the numbers tell a different story. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States have at least one developmental delay.

United Way of Greater St. Louis (UWGSL) partners with organizations that prioritize the health and wellbeing of children, making sure they have access to resources needed for physical, mental and developmental health.

Through these partnerships and support, we look to ensure parents can have peace of mind knowing that their child is in safe hands. For a local couple, a UWGSL partner agency gave their child an opportunity to thrive during a time of vulnerability.

Help for Harper

Brandon and Samantha Craig gave birth to their firstborn child, Harper, on June 23, 2021. The joy that came from welcoming their first child was indescribable. It was a special day for a very special girl.

“I call her my unicorn baby because she was actually born on her due date which is super rare,” said Samantha. “She was perfect, she was beautiful, it was a good time.”

Brandon and Samantha took Harper home the next day and began to adjust to the reality of being new parents. At first, this new normal seemed overwhelming for them. Both of them were only children growing up and neither of them were surrounded by many infant babies. For Brandon especially, some of the simple things that came with taking care of a newborn baby seemed difficult.

“I had zero idea of what taking care of a child was like, I had never really changed a diaper or held many babies before,” said Brandon. “The first time I held her I felt like I was holding a million-dollar painting or something where if I even got a fingerprint on it, I would damage it. She was just so delicate and so precious.”

As the weeks and months went on, the aspect of parenting began to seem more natural, but as Harper approached 12-months-old, Brandon and Samantha started noticing some issues.

Harper often didn’t respond when called by her name, she wasn’t walking or attempting to walk, she was struggling with her speech, and had trouble focusing. A few months later, Brandon and Samantha decided to seek help for Harper as she continued to struggle in these areas.

They reached out to Missouri First Steps, hoping they could provide services to help with some of her developmental delays, but the problems persisted, and Brandon and Samantha noticed that she was behind in her development compared to other babies her age.

As worry began to set in, they finally decided to take Harper to a doctor. She was diagnosed with level-three autism.

“It hurts, it’s very hard to hear that your kid may struggle for the rest of their life, its something that I think no parent is really prepared for,” said Brandon.

“When we first got the diagnosis, I was already close to that acceptance level just because we had started noticing the delays since she was about 12-months-old,” said Samantha. “It was sad at first, going into pregnancy you’re thinking that everything is going to be standard, but as a mom you just learn to evolve, change and get the best out of this life for her.”

Despite the diagnosis, thanks to the recommendations of Missouri First Steps and one of Brandon and Samantha’s neighbors, they found out about UWGSL partner agency, United Services for Children, who changed the trajectory of Harper’s life.

United Services provides pediatric therapy and early intervention to children with developmental disabilities or delays by partnering with families to build a foundation for success. They used Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to understand Harper’s challenges and from there, work to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning.

They began helping her with speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, how to express her wants and needs, how to develop a routine of doing simple things such as washing her hands, sitting upright in her chair, interacting with other people, and much more. Within a month, Brandon and Samantha started to see some notable changes in Harper. They noticed that she was communicating with them more, had a better understanding of her daily routine, and her behavior was much better.

Today, Harper is now 2 and a half-years-old and her development has gone from satisfactory to thriving. She can now walk, climb, jump, run, clap, and give high fives when asked, her hand-eye coordination is better as she is now able to play games on her parents’ iPad, and most of all, she is more aware of who her parents are and what they mean to her and that has meant the world to Samantha and Brandon.

They credit United Services for the tremendous progress that Harper has made. The individualized care they provide has paid dividends.

“In the few months that she has been attending United Services, the improvements that we’ve seen through their 1-one-1 care have been amazing,” said Brandon.

Every child is special, and for those who face challenges in the beginning, UWGSL and partners are there to provide an anchor of support and guidance so that no child is left behind.

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries