Byline: Robin Mohr Daily Herald Staff Writer
After two years of speech and hearing therapy, 4-year-old Tyler Willing wasn't placed in a special education program this year.
Instead of attending five days of special classes each week like his older brother Zachary, who has similar speech problems, the Gurnee preschooler only goes to one weekly therapy session.
His parents, Jennifer and Mark, couldn't be happier with their younger son's progress. As is the local school district, Woodland Elementary, which can expect to spend less money educating Tyler.
"It's telling me that the best thing to do is ... to get them diagnosed early and start treatment as early as you can," Jennifer Willing said, noting Tyler may not even need to continue therapy when he enters kindergarten next year.
But the very programs that are helping Tyler catch up to his peers faster and cheaper may no longer be available to children like him.
Under new proposed state guidelines, infants and toddlers with mild and moderate developmental and learning problems would no longer be eligible for federally-funded early intervention services, like speech and hearing therapy.
The result, critics of the plan say, will be devastating to children who'll benefit most from the early treatment.
It also will be more expensive for school districts as they scramble to play catch-up with students with more ingrained problems.
"There'll be this influx in a few years of kids who'll need a lot more special education services," said Fran Jahnke, a school board member at Diamond Lake elementary district in Mundelein and co-chair of Lake County's interagency council for early intervention. "It's like we're going backwards."
Area school districts are only now beginning to gauge the impact any changes in state- and federally funded early intervention programs may have.
One of the best studies of such programs, the Prairie School Project in Ypsalanti, Mich., shows the savings are significant, said Dr. Michael Cupoli, head of Children Memorial Hospital's program for chronically ill and disabled children.
Every $1 spent on early intervention saves $7 down the road, Cupoli said. …