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Preschool for children with disabilities works, but federal funding for it is plummeting

July 10, 2019
Jackie Mader
The Hechinger Report

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Lindsey Eakin’s son Corbin was only six months old when she started to suspect something was wrong. Corbin, her third child, wasn’t babbling or cooing like his two older siblings had at his age and he was experiencing chronic, painful ear infections. His pediatrician at the time wasn’t concerned. But by the time he turned 1, Corbin wasn’t meeting developmental milestones in speech and Eakins was frustrated that nobody seemed to have answers for her.

“I didn’t know where to go with him,” she said. “I knew he wasn’t getting the help he needed.”

For her son’s 12-month appointment, Eakins took Corbin to a different pediatrician, who immediately agreed with her concerns. The doctor thought the ear infections could be affecting Corbin’s hearing. Tubes were placed in Corbin’s ears to help drain fluid and improve his hearing, but Corbin’s speech did not improve. Just before his third birthday, he was tested for speech delays and diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, a speech disorder that can lead to a delayed or limited ability to make sounds or form words.

Eakins soon learned that Corbin qualified for speech therapy and also for a preschool program offered through her local school district, Dysart Unified, about 20 miles northwest of Phoenix. The federally funded program, often called developmental preschool, serves young children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities. The goal of the program is to give kids with disabilities the services they need and a head start in school.