James Moriarty is the kind of child parents describe as “all boy.” He’s a rough-and-tumble, two-and-a-half-year-old who’s constantly into something. His parents, Brennan Moriarty and Brianne Jones of East Longmeadow, are completely candid about the challenges they are facing as parents.
“We didn’t plan on having a child and honestly we weren’t really well-equipped to be parents,” said Moriarty. “That said, Brianne and I love James and we would not change him for the world. But in terms of his development, he’d been falling short.”
“James was easy to schedule when he was a baby,” recalled Jones. “He went to bed well and he was a good eater, at least until he realized he had choices! At about 18 months, he should have had a vocabulary of 18 to 22 words, but he didn’t even have three. It was frustrating that he couldn’t communicate and didn’t seem to try. He started having behavior issues. We are the first to say we didn’t know what we were doing, so we asked for help. Our pediatrician referred us to CHD.”
Moriarty and Jones brought their son to meet Karen Wheeler, who Moriarty respectfully calls the area’s “grandmother of Early Intervention.” Wheeler, Early Intervention Developmental Specialist/Service Coordinator for CHD Early Intervention, has invested decades in a career spanning various roles in child development and education. CHD Early Intervention works with infants and children from birth to three years who have, or are at risk, for developmental delays.
“Brianne and I, we didn’t know what to do, but Karen does and she cares,” said Moriarty. “She got everything rolling and arranged an evaluation for James right away.” A CHD Early Intervention team can assess a child’s abilities and, if indicated, will develop an individualized plan to promote development of play, movement, social behavior, communication and self-care skills.
“After James had his assessment, Karen felt it was important for him to see an autism specialist,” said Jones. “At first we tried to handle that ourselves and we couldn’t even get an appointment scheduled. Then Karen called and we got in to see Dr. Lawrence Kaplan at Shriner’s Hospital the next month. Dr. Kaplan’s tentative diagnosis placed James somewhere on the Autism spectrum, and Karen stepped up Early Intervention’s involvement in our life.”
“Before he started working with Karen, James really had no self-control,” Moriarty recalled. “He did lots of running around and throwing things, and he used basically no verbal communication. He wouldn’t even attempt it, wouldn’t even try. He’d just pick up a toy and heave it. A book was something he’d rip up or chew or throw. Now we can see how much James is improving. It can be hard to be a patient parent, but Karen teaches us what to do and it really helps.”
As part of her continuing involvement with James, Wheeler comes to their home in East Longmeadow for two sessions a week. She plays with James, but the play has a purpose. “I work with him on speech and fine motor skills, on following directions and on self-regulating,” Wheeler explained.
To further help with James’s speech development, Wheeler also brought in Kate Kelliher, a Speech Therapist with CHD Early Intervention. Together, Wheeler and Kelliher were instrumental in securing a workable solution for daycare. That was crucial since Moriarty is in school full-time studying to be a registered nurse and Jones works a variable schedule as a waitress.
“James got kicked out of his first daycare,” Moriarty explained. “He was biting and that was it. We found a new daycare, but they wouldn’t let Early Intervention work with James while he was there. We were at a point of desperation, but Karen and Kate were working for us. They didn’t simply want a place that would take James, they wanted him to have a quality daycare with more structure, more like preschool, and the opportunity to work with him on site. If we had gone in on our own I think the answer would have been no, but Karen and Kate went in for us, spoke to Helen Shea at Square One’s corporate office and Tommie Johnson at the Square One preschool. They agreed to give it a try and now it’s a team effort. Karen and Kate are even educating his preschool teacher in the classroom, as well as helping to educate other parents and some of the staff about Early Intervention.”
Wheeler and Kelliher worked out a plan with Square One so Early Intervention staff can work with James two hours a morning, four days a week. Now, in addition to the socializing and learning activities, he’s also getting one-on-one help to improve things like his vocabulary and self-control. Wheeler and Kelliher also helped James get access to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services for autism from the May Institute. ABA focuses on how learning takes place. For example, learning can happen through positive reinforcement; that is, when a behavior is followed by a reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated.
“The ABA services James gets are skills-based and intense,” said Wheeler. “James is increasing his vocabulary, even while his articulation is still running short, but he has become less frustrated and we keep hearing good reports from his preschool. Firmness and consistency work best with James. From how to turn on the faucet and wash his hands to sitting down when it’s time to eat to slowing down when it’s time for a nap, you make the rules clear and consistent. He’s making progress.”
When James turns three, he will be eligible for the education and development services he needs in the public schools. “We’re already working on that,” said Wheeler. “We have a date for James to be tested. We’ve set up a team meeting. At three years old, James will have his first Individual Education Plan.”
Jones said her son is making progress by leaps and bounds, emphasizing the importance of cueing James to promote appropriate behavior. “He has more words and cueing him as to what’s next gives him a reason to use those words,” she explained. “Even while he’s very independent, he responds to structure and follows directions. So every night it’s a tub, brush your teeth, and read a story—all cues that it’s time for bed.”
Moriarty described his family’s involvement with CHD Early Intervention as both an opportunity and a blessing. “Karen and Kate and the team at CHD have taken a weight off our shoulders,” he said. “We are going to have bumps in the road, but they make us feel like it’s going to be OK. And I can tell you this about every person we have encountered at CHD: their heart’s in it. So we trust in the team.”
What would Moriarty say to other parents of a child who may have or be at risk for developmental delay? “Don’t stay in denial. There’s help if you ask for it. There is a way forward and it’s at CHD.”