Shared Experience: New Mexico
Step*Hi – New Mexico’s Early Intervention Program for Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing – Why it Works!
Rosemary Gallegos, Director, Step*Hi
Mandula Varangis, Parent
State agencies work together
Agencies who serve children in the state of New Mexico like to work together to provide the best resources possible to families. This is certainly true of its early intervention services for families whose babies, toddlers, and children are deaf or hard of hearing. Every state has a lead agency responsible for children from birth through three years of age who need support. In New Mexico that agency is the Department of Health. The New Mexico School for the Deaf (NMSD) began providing early intervention services way back in 1983. Since then it has become a model program for early intervention and is the designated agency providing services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing through a formal agreement with the Department of Health. This collaboration assures that families are receiving broad based information from community agencies and importantly from Step*Hi experts who know how the environment impacts the growth and development of a child who has a hearing loss.
Step*Hi is responsive to families
Step*Hi follows national and state guidelines for best practice in providing family centered services. Its curriculum and how it serves families is also based on input from parents. Parents in the program have the opportunity to meet with and network with other families and interact with children who have gone through the program. Early interventionists understand that while families vary in their response, many families are often overwhelmed and baffled when they first find out their child is deaf or hard of hearing. Families report that they are better able to learn and make decisions when the early interventionist who works with them offers information in a friendly and non-judgmental manner, respecting them as the decision makers. Early interventionists team together with families in such activities as studying articles and discussing how the content applies to their child and figuring out how to make all daily routines rich in language and communication. The early interventionist helps broadens the scope of a family’s network by suggesting conferences and other learning opportunities.
Children are viewed holistically
Children are seen as capable with so much potential to learn, communicate, think, grow and control their environments. All assessments and curricula are designed to determine next steps that will give the child as much access to language, communication and thinking as possible. Instead of randomly picking a method that might feel comfortable to an adult, families and providers focus in on the child to carefully consider and support how that child learns best. Continuous assessment of the child’s development helps the family and provider shape the curriculum to maximize the child’s response. One family commented how wonderful it was to hear from a panel of deaf and hard of hearing adults tell their own stories about growing up, going to school and accessing the world around them. Families also participate in the Deaf Role Model Program where visits from a deaf or hard of hearing adult help families learn how to enjoy interacting with their child and understand their child’s future in the greater context of their community. Families see how important it is for their child to have a deaf role model to look up to and begin to develop his/her self identity.
It is everywhere in the state
The New Mexico School for the Deaf Step*Hi program is state-wide and has a provider network of one coordinator, five regional supervisors, one full time early interventionist and 35 private contractors who live near or in the community that they serve. The key to quality services is quality staff. Step*Hi regional supervisors have many years of experience working with families and their children who are deaf or hard of hearing. They are tireless in their efforts to make connections with all agencies and medical personnel interacting with young children so that referrals are made to the program at the earliest possible age. Even though New Mexico faces challenges in making sure that all children who are deaf or hard of hearing are identified early, the goal of the Step*Hi program is for children to start services by six months of age. We all know that early and rich access to language and communication is critical and must happen. This is a goal that can be achieved with continuous hard work and collaboration from all public and private agencies involved.