News Office | ILLINOIS

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois – When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Illinois service providers to suspend in-person early intervention visits last spring, families with disabled or retarded infants and young children who had no no online access have had difficulty obtaining services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and developmental therapy.

However, a technology loan program provided by the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is helping many families across the state get the equipment they need to participate in tours. live video – or telehealth – with their children’s therapists.

Families with early intervention services who have smartphones or computers but do not have internet access can borrow Wi-Fi hotspots from the clearinghouse, while families who need help Digital devices can borrow tablets with or without a data plan. The material is loaned free of charge.

The technology loan program fills an important niche for families who need digital devices, internet access, or both, said Meghan Burke, a special education teacher.

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Since the clearinghouse started loaning the equipment in June, it has received hundreds of requests from families, most of them needing both a tablet and an access point. Wi-Fi to access telehealth services, said Meghan Burke, a special education professor at the U. of I ..

She is the principal investigator of the Illinois Department of Social Services Office of Early Intervention Grant, which funds the clearinghouse.

Managed by the Early Childhood Collective at U. of I., the clearinghouse functions as a statewide lending library for the 20,000 families of disabled and retarded children in Illinois, and the 6,000 professionals in the state who provide services such as speech therapy and physical therapy. , nutrition services and assistive technology for infants and children up to 3 years.

Resources available through the clearing-house mechanism include books, DVDs, tip sheets and a newsletter on best practices in early intervention and parenting.

“The clearinghouse was uniquely prepared to provide strong support to families during this difficult time,” said Sarah Isaacs, visiting project coordinator and clearinghouse librarian. “Early intervention services are essential because young children grow and develop so quickly. If they do not receive services during this narrow window, it can have lasting effects. “

Early intervention services are typically provided in the natural environment, in the family home or daycare, said Burke.

“If you have a young child up to the age of 3 with a disability such as Down syndrome or a speech or language disorder, a provider comes to the daycare or home and advises the family on effective strategies to use with the child to help them make progress, ”said Burke.

When the increase in COVID-19 cases in the spring raised security concerns over face-to-face contact, state officials temporarily suspended in-person visits and switched to online delivery to help flatten the curve.

Fortunately, state officials quickly developed guidelines allowing teletherapy so families could use Skype, Zoom, or other internet platforms to connect with their therapists and continue to receive early intervention services. needed remotely, ”said Burke.

Isaacs and information specialist Jill Tompkins configured each device with the apps and programs needed to help families get started on their live video tours quickly. When children no longer have access to or need early intervention services, their families return tablets or hotspots to the clearinghouse, and the equipment is cleaned and loaned to the next beneficiary on the list. waiting.

“One of the great things about the Illinois Bureau of Early Intervention is that it wants to make sure these practices are fair,” Burke said. “With telehealth, families who don’t have a consistent Internet access or those who don’t have a smartphone or computer might not be able to participate. “

The technology loan program is funded by a $ 10,000 grant from the disability advocacy organization The Arc of Illinois, a $ 30,000 grant from the Illinois Developmental Disabilities Council, and clearinghouse project funds .

“We were really excited to get the $ 10,000 grant so that we could support a number of families up front,” said Burke. “But after serving these people, we still had a waiting list of over 65 people that we didn’t have devices to serve.”

When the Illinois Developmental Disabilities Council awarded the $ 30,000 grant in mid-November, the clearinghouse was able to purchase additional devices to serve about 40 additional families on its waiting list.

“Without this funding and, therefore, the technology, these families could not receive the early intervention services they need,” said Burke.

Feedback from families and providers using the technology loan program has been positive as it has helped them bridge the digital divide and connect with their therapists safely.

“It’s a good feeling to know that we are providing a needed service during the pandemic,” Tompkins said. “Families are very grateful to have the equipment they need to support their child.

“There is a Rush University research project that is also lending devices to eligible families, but other than that and our clearinghouse, I don’t see many other ways for families to get the technology that they need to engage in early intervention services. remotely, ”said Burke. “We are delighted to fill this niche. “

For more information on the Technology Loan Program, to request devices, or search for materials in the Lending Library, visit the clearinghouse webpage or call 877-275-3227.

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