A Team Approach

When Leanne Henry and Brandy Angelo received the video of Julia’s first steps, they were ecstatic.

Julia, now 2, was born with spina bifida and has been enrolled in Early Intervention with Hamilton County DD Services since she was a few months old.

Henry and Angelo had been working with Julia and her mom, Jessica Erskine, since the beginning of 2020. The first few in-person visits improved Julia’s coordination and helped her strengthen her muscles for new skills. So when COVID-19 forced Early Intervention services to go virtual, Erskine was skeptical her daughter would continue her progress.

“As a busy mom with two kids and all of the doctor’s appointments we were already doing in person—and working full-time—I thought, ‘how and why am I going to make the time for a virtual visit when we’re practicing hands-on and physical skills?’” Erskine said. “I wondered if we were really going to get what we needed. And I found it was an opportunity for me to have that communication I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Henry, an HCDDS developmental specialist, and Angelo, an Early Intervention physical therapist, would have virtual video chats and try to coach Erskine through exercises, getting creative and showing proper hand placement with a Cabbage Patch doll. “We adapted what she was doing during physical therapy at Cincinnati Children’s, and figured out how they could do that in the home,” Henry said.

Angelo added that it wasn’t just physical skills—they worked on everything from transitioning off a bottle to Julia’s speech. “I feel like we were able to share in a lot more major successes. And it wasn’t just us showing her how to do it. It was mom and Julia making it work,” Angelo said.

Sometimes, Julia was camera shy but they persisted and shared videos of her progress. Erskine said being able to share those little moments of Julia’s development during the virtual visits gave her more confidence for hands-on practice at home.

“Even as a second-time mom, everything is different with a special needs baby. I worry so much more and I overthink so much more.,” she said. “To have somebody to bounce things off of, even simple things – I needed that support. And Leanne and Brandy have been able to see all that growth over time. It’s been really fun.”

Julia is now cruising in her walker and the team continues to work on her balance and take her first unassisted steps. They’ve resumed in-person visits, but providing virtual support was a challenge, and Henry tries to emulate this success with other families.

 “Though she was skeptical at first, Jessica was willing to try. It helped us understand that we can make virtual intervention work without being in the home,” she said.

Over the past 18 months, Erskine has become incredibly close with her daughter’s Early Intervention team and is grateful for their continued support. “Of all the providers, I have the closest relationship with these two,” she said. “They’re the people I talk to and want to text in the moment to celebrate Julia’s success. And I love it.”

This story originally appeared on our website in October 2021.