When Dawn Findel-Sherry’s son Tyler hadn’t spoken by the age of three, she knew his development was not on track. Her family physician assured her all was okay. But during an emergency visit to the IWK Health Centre after Tyler seriously injured a finger, the physician on staff immediately grew concerned about his lack of speech, too.

That emergency visit led to a referral to the hospital’s early development clinic, where Tyler was diagnosed with developmental delays. They suggested Findel-Sherry research local supports and free services to help her son catch up with his peers, and she knew exactly what kind of assistance she needed.

“Basically, I wanted someone to help me help him,” she says. She found that assistance in the Sackville-Bedford Early Intervention Program, a registered, non-profit charitable organization that provides support, education and information to families with children from birth to six years with developmental delays or disorders.

The family met with someone from the program and a few months later had a worker of their own. Alice Bryson started visiting Tyler at home on a twice-monthly basis, learning not only about his challenges and needs, but the dynamics of the family and how Tyler’s needs affect them. During the hour they spend together, Bryson and Tyler work on everything from reaching age-appropriate milestones to having fun with imaginative play, or singing songs. Findel-Sherry says she admires Bryson’s “boundless energy.”

“She’s so fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better worker,” Findel-Sherry says, adding that Bryson’s skills as a trained speech pathologist have given Tyler more skills than she dreamed he’d receive. All of the tools and techniques Bryson uses during those sessions are given to the parents, so they can continue working with their children between visits with the program worker. That, says Patti Kent, executive director of the Sackville-Bedford Early Intervention Program, is the key to its success.

“It’s about enabling families to be their own advocates,” says Kent, “and give them the tools they require to make it on their own.”

The Sackville-Bedford Early Intervention Program is one in a network of 18 similar programs around the province, all of which work in partnership with Early Intervention Nova Scotia. The Sackville-Bedford program, which has been around since 1983, currently serves 64 families; another 30 are on the wait list. A family could wait up to one and a half years to connect with a worker. Kent says their reach extends well beyond Bedford and Sackville, serving families in Enfield, Lantz and Mount Uniacke. The program receives 80 per cent of its funding from the provincial Department of Community Services. The other 20 per cent comes from fundraising efforts and sponsorships.

“As we grow, it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain our program and wait list because more children are being diagnosed,” says Kent, adding that many families are very vulnerable when they first connect with them. “We’re hopeful we will keep going, but we’re never sure what is around the corner.”

While the families express gratitude for the help they receive from the program, Kent says the program is equally lucky to get to work with families. “My love for the job is working with the families,” she says. “I have a wonderful team here, so I know they are out there doing a great job.”

With Bryson’s help, as well as surgery to fix an issue with adenoids and tonsils, Tyler’s speech has come along nicely. His mother was grateful to hear his first words, including many “I love you.”

“Those were the best words I’ve heard him say,” she says.

Tyler will be five years-old this July, and by the time he starts school, he will no longer have visits with Bryson. Now, she visits him at preschool, where Findel-Sherry says she serves as a “fly on the wall,” learning how Tyler operates in a classroom setting with peers. While his mother says she’s “petrified” to be without the program once Tyler starts school, she’s confident she now has the tools and resources to help her son thrive. She calls the program’s staff “lifesavers.”

“I don’t know where we’d be without the services we received,” Findel-Sherry says, encouraging parents who need help to reach out. “As sad as I am to see them go, I am so grateful for the two years of support we did have. We are very lucky.” Kent says she knows how parents feel, adding the program staff enjoy the progress everyone has made. “It’s a good day when our families say they don’t need us anymore,” she says.

For more information on the Sackville-Bedford Early Intervention Program, visit www.sbeip.com