East Texas program for toddlers with disabilities in danger of shutdown

East Texas program for toddlers with disabilities in danger of shutdown

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Hundreds of East Texas children, all under the age of three, and all with some sort of medical disability or delay, depend on a program called Early Childhood Intervention. It exists to help those little ones get the therapy they need to do things like walk, talk, and even see better.

That program, which services Smith, Cherokee, Henderson, Anderson, Wood, Van Zandt, and Rains counties, is in danger of shutting down in eight days. But an East Texas mom is doing everything she can to keep that from happening.

Leigh Ann Cook is a speech therapist and a mother of two. Those two jobs fused like she never thought possible when her daughter Collins turned six months old.

"She had stopped smiling and interacting, and we were literally seeing her kind of fade away right in front of us," Cook said.

Collins was diagnosed with infantile spasms, an incredibly rare affliction, that wracked her little body with thousands of seizures.

Her doctors were able to get the seizures under control, and the Cook family was plugged in with The Andrews Center in Tyler, and the Early Childhood Intervention program.

"It was at that moment that I knew that I was going to have to trust other people, and trust in my profession," Cook said. "Because therapy's the only way that she's ever going to reach her goals, and have that chance of walking down the aisle, and having friends, and being in school."

Collins, who's now 19 months old, has therapy almost every day, including four times a month with therapists from ECI, and she's shown tremendous progress.

But The Andrews Center contract with the state to provide ECI ends on Friday, September 30. They're not renewing because they say they're losing money on the program.

The Andrews Center director, Sheila Matson, told KLTV 7 in a statement that "The Health and Human Services Commission is actively trying to find an agency to take over the ECI program."

To help that along, Cook has added writer and activist to her list of jobs.

She wrote a petition on Facebook to tell people about the situation that she, and other East Texas parents are facing if ECI goes away. A friend put it on www.change.org, and it's been signed by more than 1,200 people.

The gist of it is, ECI is a child's right, not a privilege.

"Your taxpayer dollars, both federal and state, go into this program," Cook said. "And it's something that's supposed to be there, to help get our children ready, during that critical developmental time, to get them ready to go and live functional lives."

That right is detailed in the Individuals with Disabilities Act. But that act isn't stopping an ECI cut in East Texas from being a real possibility, leaving little ones like Collins in the worst situation possible...unable to move forward.

The Andrews Center is the third ECI contractor in Texas that chose not to renew its contract with the state this year. The center in El Paso made the decision in July, and another in North Texas, which serves 10 counties, is set to end in October 2017.

If you'd like to see, or sign the Leigh Ann Cook's petition, click here.

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