Debbie Kipling’s worst fears as a mother were realized last year when her adopted son, Milo, began regressing.
Amanda Kelley, who teaches in the pre-K program, helps Milo, 4, write his name Sept. 25, 2012, for a class project at Project Help in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/M. Willard)
He was having trouble making eye contact, had trouble sitting in one spot, and couldn’t focus on any task.
“He didn’t like school,” she said. “He didn’t interact with other children. He was acting out because he couldn’t communicate his displeasure.”
His behavior frustrated Kipling, who works as a speech and language pathologist for Rutherford County Schools. So she transferred him to another school, thinking he might do better in a different environment.
But he got worse.
“Every day we would come and they would say, Milo did this, Milo did that,” Kipling said about the 4-year-old’s experience at preschool, adding she would get at least two calls a week saying, “Milo is too active.”
At a loss, Kipling took Milo to a psychologist who diagnosed him with anxiety and autism spectrum disorder.
This was in addition to his previous diagnoses of metopic craniosynosis and plagiocephaly. Metopic craniosynosis occurs when the soft spots on a child’s skull close too early, causing pressure on the brain. Hydrocephaly is a flattening of one side of the head.
Milo’s disorders and a delay in fine motor skills, likely stem from the 11 months he spent in an orphanage overseas before Kipling adopted him.
After two cranial surgeries, Kipling thought he had his problems straightened out, but then the behavior started at school.
“I felt at a loss ...” Kipling said. “He was academically advanced, but he didn’t fit in the classroom.”
Kipling had heard about Project Help but didn’t think Milo would qualify because the early intervention preschool only accepts children between 15 months old and 3 years old.
She called to ask if anyone there knew of any programs for which Milo qualified.
“I called, and I was crying,” Kipling said.
After she relayed her troubles and fears, Project Help Director Susan Waldrop asked if Kipling and Milo would like to visit the program’s new addition, a daylong pre-kindergarten class called Project Help Prep.
Like Project Help, Prep classrooms consist of developmentally delayed children and typical children, called peers and peer models, respectively.
The peer models serve as role models to the peers. They benefit as well by being part of a program that promotes diversity, creativity, and cultural experiences for children by learning through play. The students learn through play and focus on five areas of development: fine motor skills, gross motor skills, communication, social and adaptive skills, and cognitive skills.
Project Help Prep was originally only a half-day program but recently expanded to full day, and it is tuition based for children who have an Individual Education Plan, or a personalized academic plan for students with special needs, from either Murfreesboro City or Rutherford County schools.
“We needed help and Project Help has been a big help,” Kipling said.
Part of the help has been given by Amanda Kelley.
Kelley started at Project Help as a “big friend,” who is an MTSU student that is participating either as part of her studies or for a scholarship requirement.
After Kelley’s scholarship requirement was completed and she graduated from MTSU, she applied to be a co-teacher and was promoted to full teacher in October 2010.
“I’d always wanted to do education, but the area of children with special needs has my heart,” Kelley scholarship requirement said.
She added her goal is to see each student fully engaged with whatever activity the class is doing, and following visual cues and verbal prompts.
“We do push more of the pre-K skills because these kids will be going into kindergarten next year,” Kelley said.
The program has had a marked impact on Milo and his attitude since starting Project Help Prep.
“He is doing great ...” Kipling said. “His face lights up when he gets to go to school. He’s a totally different kid. It’s like night and day.”
Milo is now interacting with others and making eye contact, his vocabulary has gotten better and so have his fine motor skills.
“You can tell is surrounded by support and a positive environment,” Kipling said.
Now she sees he has a future as bright as any other child.
“I just see him growing up to be a confident, smart man,” she said. “His general outlook on life has changed … He has come out of his shell.”