RAF Alconbury program lends families a helping hand

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

The Educational and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) program provides support to children who have developmental or special educational needs in their homes or classrooms.

“When we moved to England in January of 2019, my son James was due for his 18-month checkup,” said Katlyn Jiros. “The doctor noticed that he was behind in his development and recommended EDIS.”

EDIS is located at all locations where Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DODDS) are present. The overseas EDIS Program has two parts: Early Intervention Services (EIS) which are provided to families who have children under three years old (usually in their homes or at the Child Development Center (CDC)), and Related Services (RS), which are provided to children and educators in the school setting.

“Our EDIS program is located in RAF Alconbury’s Medical and Dental Clinic, although we are actually an educational program,” said Lisa Clifton, 423rd Medical Squadron early childhood special educator. “We provide services to Active Duty, DoD Civilian, and some contractor families across the 501st Combat Support Wing (CSW) to include Alconbury, Molesworth, Croughton, and Menwith Hill. Lakenheath EDIS supports our friends up in Stavanger, Norway as well. The direct services we currently provide include developmental instruction and occupational therapy, while the other services (speech and language therapy, physical therapy, psychology, developmental pediatrics, and audiology) are provided by Lakenheath EDIS on an itinerant basis.”

The EDIS program currently helps at least 22 families in the 501st CSW. Clifton primarily assists in early intervention services, supporting children from birth to age three. Gail Slaughter, 423rd MDS pediatric occupational therapist, works with early intervention and school-age children through fine motor skill and sensory processing activities. Maj. Darnell Schuettler, 423rd MDS EDIS program manager and mental health flight commander, supervises and leads the EDIS team.

“I found out about the program from the Alconbury Community page on Facebook, when I was looking for a speech therapist for my then 20-month-old son,” said a local EDIS parent. “Having previously suffered from glue ear, in addition to being raised in a bilingual household, my son was experiencing speech delays, so I wanted to find out whether any additional resources were available through the base. Ms. Clifton promptly responded to my message and scheduled a visit.”

EIS make family home visits to help parents learn about child development and their child’s specific needs, they also advise parents on what they can do to help their child learn and grow in their daily activities and link them to community resources that may be helpful. They also aid the children by preparing them for preschool and CDC activities as well as helping staff at these facilities learn more about supporting the child’s needs.

One of the most common concerns for parents is getting their child to tell them what they want. So, the EDIS team finds ways for each child to communicate in the way that works best for them. This could be words, or it could be sign language, or pictures. They also find ways to help children sleep on their own. These strategies help families feel more in control and able to cope with potential challenges.

“The EDIS program has given us the resources and education we needed to understand why he was behind, in our case, in communicating,” said Jiros. “Through them we were able to set up a system that allowed our son to communicate with us without using speech, which has helped make James happier, as well as his parents!”

RS provides support in the school system to children identified with special educational needs. As part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, families and educators work together to provide interventions that support the child’s learning. Families are an integral part of the IEP process.

“Both Ms. Clifton and Ms. Slaughter have made a significant contribution to the progress of my son who is now fully verbal,” said an EDIS parent. “They have not only been professional but also caring, encouraging, and kind. Their advice went well beyond speech therapy, and I was very glad to incorporate their suggestions into our daily routine. My son loves the games, crafts, and other fun activities that they shared with us. One of the greatest benefits was a referral to the EDIS audiologist at RAF Lakenheath who thoroughly tested my son's hearing and confirmed it was absolutely normal - what a relief! Because the NHS waitlist for hearing tests can be quite long, the possibility to see an American doctor was extremely helpful.”

In order to qualify for the program, parents have to be active duty, DOD civilian, or be on a DOD contract that includes eligibility for DoDDS. Second, the child needs to show a significant developmental delay or meet Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) requirements for special education services. However, if a child lives more than two hours away from RAF Alconbury, they will receive services virtually. This includes support provided by email, text, phone calls, and or video calls, as the family prefers. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all EIS are being provided virtually as well.

“Both Ms. Clifton and Ms. Slaughter have vast experience of working with families and can offer solutions for many problems that families may experience,” said an EDIS parent. “Because they coach parents and suggest different intervention strategies, effectively training parents as therapists for their children, they are able to help families even via Skype, an invaluable asset in the current dire situation. Being abroad, away from family support and a familiar medical system, and dealing with your child's health issues can be an incredibly stressful situation. In these circumstances, the support that EDIS provides is of particular value. As a parent, I am extremely grateful. The EDIS specialists have referred my son to a program at Alconbury Elementary School, where he would be able to work with a speech therapist in addition to having fun with other kids. Without EDIS, I would have never found out about this and other resources available to families affiliated with the base.”

As EDIS helps families learn more about their child and what they need in order to function in their daily life, they also learn how to access the services available in their community. If they don’t find what they are looking for, EDIS may be able to come up with other options, like social media connections that may fill that need.

“For example, we had a very successful, long-running parent-run playgroup that shut down when leaders moved from the area,” said Clifton. “Families wanted a place for their children to make friends and for themselves to meet other parents. EDIS staff worked hard to find new parent volunteers, a new location, and with the support of the Community Action Team, were able to start up again.”

Clifton shared some common questions parents may have about the program:

  • The most common question we get is “How do I get speech therapy for my three-year-old child?”. Our answer is: We cannot provide that service, but [we will] direct the family to Alconbury Elementary School (if they are assigned to Alconbury or Molesworth). They can request a “Child Find” screening to be provided by school staff. EDIS only provides speech and language services to children under the age of 3.
  • “How or when should I contact EDIS if I have a concern about my child?” Contact us as soon as you have a concern. You don’t need to go to your doctor first. You can call us anytime (you can leave a message and we will return your call), email a provider, or message us through our Facebook Page. We also have a Facebook Group you can join to get information on child development, local resources, and discuss topics of interest.
  • “Will I be enrolled in EFMP?” EDIS provides the developmental screening and assessment needed to determine eligibility for our services. If a child is showing a documented developmental delay, no matter who did the assessment, they need support to learn and grow at a rate fast enough to catch up to their peers. Therefore, when necessary, EDIS will recommend enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). EFMP will work with the family to ensure that wherever they go next, the services their child needs, will be there.

“If there are any parents out there who are uncertain about going forward with EDIS visits, I would encourage them to move forward with them,” said Jiros. “Give them a couple of visits, and if you decide that it is not a good fit for your family, then no harm done. I'm so glad we went forward with it, as Lisa has been a valuable resource for us and now my son is receiving the therapy he needs. He loves it and is a happier kid now because of it!”

RAF Alconbury EDIS has been receiving support from RAF Lakenheath for speech and language services. They have recently hired a speech language pathologist to join their team.

For more information, please contact EDIS at 01480 844513 (268-4513) or see their Facebook group and page “RAF Alconbury EDIS.”