Jana Letain’s baby was four months old when she first started noticing that he only ever seemed to move his left arm. A couple of months later, she joked to a public health nurse that Mason was clearly going to be a left-hander.
That comment instantly set off alarms for the nurse, who noted to the Maple Ridge mother that children don’t actually develop a hand preference until they are at least 18 months old. The nurse suspected that Mason not using his right hand signalled that something was wrong.
One month and “about a million blood tests” later, the baby was diagnosed as having had a stroke sometime during the birth process. Jana was stunned by the news, but later learned that one in 2,200 children suffer strokes during birth.
The family knew little about B.C.’s child development services up to that point. But they learned fast. From that first physiotherapy visit to the family home when Mason was seven months old, the Letains would become very familiar as the years passed with the array of therapies and supports that constitute child development services in the province.
Now age four, Mason and his family have benefited from a range of supports. Many of those supports are aimed at helping Mason function better physically, but he has also had help with anxiety and sleep behaviours. The stroke left him with poor peripheral vision, so the family has also received the support of a vision consultant and a therapist who went to Mason’s pre-school to help his caregivers learn where to stand so Mason could see them.
“The child development centres have been a huge resource for everything,” says Jana. “I don’t know what we’d do without them. Mason’s occupational therapist even has a pre-kindergarten program that he will be going into next year to get ready for kindergarten.”
The B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention represents 30 child development agencies around the province that provide the early interventions that can change the course of a child’s life in the all-important years between birth and age five.
Mason first received services through the Ridge Meadows Child Development Centre Society, and later through the Comox Valley Child Development Association after his family moved to Vancouver Island in 2014.
Services go beyond one-on-one support, notes Jana. When Mason was having difficulty with sleeping, the family went to a group workshop teaching strategies for improving children’s sleep patterns, and another on strategies for encouraging speech in children. Jana now employs the skills learned in those seminars to help Mason’s two-year-old sibling as well.
“The seminars were also great for helping Mason connect with and learn to trust other adults,” says Jana. “And we’ve really benefited from the child development centres’ loans of equipment, toys, and specially adapted bicycles.”
As could be expected, Mason needed more time to hit his developmental milestones. He didn’t walk or talk until he was two, and skipped crawling altogether as a baby and instead “did a kind of bum scoot.”
But his progress has nonetheless surprised the professionals in his life. One doctor told Jana after Mason started walking that if he had seen the results of the toddler’s MRI scan earlier, he would have predicted Mason would never walk.
“The thing about children’s brains at this age is they rewire themselves to increase function,” says Jana. “For instance, Mason still has problems with his right hand, but he can carry 10 balls in his left one!”
Mason is currently receiving speech therapy for stuttering, but the intensive 17-week program is already showing results. He gets physiotherapy and occupational therapy twice a month, and through those supports has improved his fine-motor skills and learned how to manage stairs better. Botox injections have improved some functions in his right hand.
Asked whether she had any words of wisdom for other parents of children with disabilities, Jana says the most critical thing is that families seek support when they think something might not be right for their child – and that vital early-intervention services are available when a family needs them.
Parents can make their own referrals for children up to age three if the family thinks a child needs infant development services, she adds.
“Early intervention is key,” says Jana. “As a parent, it’s hard to think that there might be something less than typical with your child. But it’s so important to raise it.”
How you can help: Learn more about child development and early intervention in British Columbia at www.bcacdi.org, and how to support the Comox Valley Child Development Association at https://cvcda.ca/ . The B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention represents 30 agencies that deliver services to 15,000 children and youth.