By Rachel Spitzer
As an intern at Riverside Early Intervention, funded by the Gertrude Heller Memorial Grant, I work with children who are 0-3 years old and have developmental delays. Support for these children can include physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, psychiatry, and/or work with developmental specialists. As a result of the varied disciplines involved in providing comprehensive care for families and their children, I get the opportunity to learn about treatment from many perspectives. For each individual child, I get to see how multiple specialties combine to support their development holistically.
My days consist of a mix of assisting in group play sessions, attending staff meetings, and observing therapy sessions for children in their homes. Group sessions are my opportunity to engage most directly with the kids in the program, and they are how I start each morning. Although Riverside Early Intervention serves children from birth, most groups include only toddlers between 18 months and 3 years old. Some groups run with caregivers participating in the room, and others are for children only so that they can practice separating from caregivers. We specifically encourage the toddlers to engage with each other, use words to communicate, and follow directions during transitions and structured circle times.
Sometimes the children can easily accomplish these goals, but most of them have significant barriers to understanding how to participate effectively in group play. Many have Autism Spectrum Disorder, global developmental delays, speech delays, motor impairments, or other neurological disorders that impact their functioning. The play group program at Riverside Early Intervention aims to help these children integrate into structured social settings so that they can improve on important life skills. Simultaneously, we ensure that we attend their individual needs and teach them how to express and advocate for themselves. It is highly rewarding to facilitate positive interactions for these vulnerable children who have already confronted significant challenges in their short lives.
Playing among toddlers is a major change from doing academic work at Haverford. For me, drawing with markers, singing songs, and conversing with goofy little ones is a welcome break from the more rigorous analytical thinking that dominates the school year. My education, however, has inspired and informed my work at Riverside Early Intervention. Riverside Early Intervention is one of many programs run by a larger organization called Riverside Community Care, one of the largest human services providers in Massachusetts. Learning about healthcare and health disparities across multiple Health Studies courses at Haverford, I have developed an understanding of the importance of human services work. My internship at Riverside Early Intervention has provided the opportunity to translate my learning from classes into action in a dynamic healthcare setting. It is encouraging to learn about and even take part in solutions to many of the problems that I have discussed throughout my courses. While my days at Riverside Early Intervention and my days in class at Haverford may feel very different, they both contribute to my ability to care for those around me. I am grateful for the Gertrude Heller Memorial Grant, which similarly values this type of work, and supports the summer efforts of those like me who want to take part in it.