As other children their age started to talk and socialize, Jackie D’Costa’s two youngest sons weren’t progressing at the same pace.
Nicholas, now age 7, was diagnosed with autism and mild hearing loss and Michael, now age 5, has severe hearing loss.
D’Costa enrolled them in the Early Access to Supportive Education program at the Children’s Services Centre in Red Deer, which gave them daily access to speech language pathologists. EASE is a pre-school program that offers the youngsters access to many professionals to help in their development.
When Michael arrived at EASE as a toddler he could only say a few words and was clinging to his mother’s leg, scared for her to leave.
“Now he is talking. He has got hearing aids and an FM system and he is socializing more,” D’Costa said.
When Nicholas arrived he had severe delays in everything and didn’t make eye contact with others, D’Costa said. But after two years in the program he has just a mild delay in speech and a moderate delay in gross motor skills. He now talks and socializes with other children at school.
“It meant going from not talking at all to speaking. So (the program) has given the gift of speech, the gift of communication, the gift of social skills,” D’Costa said.
If not for a dedicated group of parents of children with special needs and professionals pushing for services 25 years ago the Children’s Services Centre never would have existed.
D’Costa said 25 years ago families that needed the help her boys have received had to drive to Edmonton or Calgary. She said she is so thankful the founding families worked to get a program in place.
The Children’s Services Centre started in 1985, with a two-year provincial government grant. The centre helps children with autism, Down syndrome, hearing and vision impairments, physical disabilities, social and emotional disorders and developmental delays.
At first there were six staff members, in an office in the Scotiabank in downtown Red Deer. Twenty-five years later there is a staff of 65, with four major programs and hundreds of children and families helped each year. At first CSC was administered by Red Deer College, but the non-profit society became its own entity in 2000, eventually purchasing the Atrium building at 4826 47 St. in Red Deer several years ago.
The Children’s Services Centre has an early intervention program that allows staff to visit families to help them navigate the system, as well as the EASE program, which is a pre-school for 56 children from age two and a half to five years. The original program — known as the transdisciplinary assessment and consultation program — offers six-weeks of assessment for children and training for parents and the centre also offers conferences and workshops throughout the year for teachers and other professionals.
The CSC has a $2.6 million budget, with 87 per cent coming from government funding and most of the rest coming from charitable donations and fundraising efforts.
Linda Smith, the executive director of Children’s Services Centre, said a lot of the progress the children make has to do with the parents’ involvement because as the parents become more confident and empowered to do what is needed they see their children improve and grow. She said parents who come to the centre often say they feel safe and comfortable and not judged.
“They feel that their children are being accepted as children and not as a behavioural problem,” Smith said.
Smith is pleased that since as the CSC is in the midst of celebrating its 25th anniversary year they have been able to hold the values and beliefs of the founding families and continue to be family centred, that the centre has stayed cutting edge in its service delivery and they have constantly grown and changed based on what the community has said it wants.
Wayne Doan, the board chair who has been with the program since it started, has spoken to parents who have moved to the area from Toronto and the North who haven’t experienced a facility like this. He said he is immensely proud that a service like this exists in Central Alberta because it doesn’t exist everywhere.