Opinion

The story of Joaquin

The story of Joaquin is a powerful one.

He was born in October of 2007, a healthy and well-developed baby who went home without complication. Just four weeks later, however, Joaquin went into sudden cardiac arrest while he and his mother were at the store. For a short period of time, he was actually dead. Joaquin’s life was saved by a stranger who knew CPR and an incredible medical team. He spent several weeks in critical condition at the hospital, and made tremendous progress during that time. He went home sooner than expected—but he was still very sick and his family had no idea how his development would be affected.

Joaquin’s mom stayed home for a year to focus on his recovery and therapy. Over time it was obvious that he had experienced some minor brain damage, but he kept progressing and responding to therapy. Finally, at 15 months, Joaquin’s parents felt comfortable enrolling him in childcare. The challenge was finding a provider who could support and nurture Joaquin holistically. He had made great strides in his therapy, but was getting most of his nutrition through a tube and was unable to walk, crawl or talk.

Fast forward to today: Joaquin is two-and-a-half years old and pursues all the same activities as other kids his age. He loves jumping, kicking balls, dancing and playing baseball. He talks and sings and can eat anything he wants—without assistance. I visited Joaquin’s classroom a few weeks ago and had the same reaction as everyone else: this blond-haired bundle of energy is absolutely thriving!

What made the difference for Joaquin? Well, his tremendous fighting spirit was certainly the X factor throughout his recovery. Added to that was a team of therapists that focused on his motor and feeding skills, as well as language and communication. This team therapy approach is known as early intervention in the child development community, and Joaquin is a compelling poster child for the impact of these services.

It’s important to note that Joaquin received services right in his childcare classroom. His therapists came to his room, where they knew he felt comfortable, and they incorporated therapy strategies into his everyday activities. The therapists also worked with Joaquin’s parents, so they could continue the therapy at home. Everyone in this child’s life was involved with his treatment.

Joaquin’s therapy was also strengthened by the fact that his classroom includes children of all abilities. His mom says peer modeling played a big role in her son’s progress. When he saw his peers doing something that he wasn’t yet able to do, Joaquin would keep trying until he got there. And he didn’t just get there; he’s now the model in many ways!

I love this story because it’s a great example of how a child’s trajectory can change through the combined strategies of early intervention and inclusion. Joaquin’s parents thought their son would maybe be at the same level as his peers by the age of five. Maybe! And now he’s at the end of his therapy services and right on track developmentally.

Kids with developmental conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome benefit in much the same way. They might not ultimately reach the same milestones in the same timeframe as their peers, but early intervention and therapy services can nonetheless alter their trajectory significantly. It’s all about hitting the critical window of opportunity with a customized therapy approach—and it’s also about serving kids in a natural, inclusive environment. One entirely supports the other, and the benefits are limitless.

Tom Everill is the President & CEO of Northwest Center, and collaborates with staff member Alice Thavis on monthly columns for this publication. Contact them at inside@nwcenter.org if there are topics related to people with disabilities that would interest you.

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