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Isabel Polak, EDIS speech language pathologist, asks Melody Matsueda, 4, to name different objects during a screening last week at Misawa Air Base, Japan. EDIS and Department of Defense Dependents Schools saw about 30 to 40 children last week during free screenings to learn whether any of the children might have developmental delays or disabilities.

Isabel Polak, EDIS speech language pathologist, asks Melody Matsueda, 4, to name different objects during a screening last week at Misawa Air Base, Japan. EDIS and Department of Defense Dependents Schools saw about 30 to 40 children last week during free screenings to learn whether any of the children might have developmental delays or disabilities. (Jennifer Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Sometimes the stigma is the biggest hurdle.

Unable to accept that one’s child lags developmentally, a parent may not seek help that’s only a phone call away, say staff members with Misawa’s Educational and Developmental Intervention Services, or EDIS.

“I’ve seen where the parents didn’t know [about the program], but sometimes it’s total denial,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Doug Dumas, an EDIS physical therapist and the program’s division head.

At Misawa, EDIS is a satellite clinic of U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka available to families of all branches of government service.

EDIS provides services to eligible infants and toddlers at military installations in the States and overseas. Also, it renders medical services, such as occupational and physical therapy, to school-age children in special-education programs at Department of Defense Dependents Schools overseas.

Last week EDIS and DODDS tested from 30 to 40 children at Misawa for potential developmental delays or disabilities during its annual five days of free screenings, Dumas said. Parents, however, may make an appointment to have their child evaluated at any time throughout the year, he said.

“If they have any suspicion that something doesn’t seem right,” they should call EDIS or their DODDS school, depending on the child’s age, he said. “We get families that think something’s wrong with their child and there’s nothing wrong with their child. It’s better safe than sorry.”

EDIS staff members specialize in early childhood education, social work, nursing, and fine and gross motor and speech and language development.

The organization recently lost its clinical psychologist, who will not be replaced, Dumas said. That decision is “based on numbers of how many kids require the service,” he said.

EDIS programs at larger bases in Japan, however, employ specialists such as a developmental pediatrician; ear, nose and throat doctor; and a child psychiatrist; they visit Misawa about four times a year, Dumas said.

DODDS and EDIS collaborate when a child with special-education needs is of preschool or school age, usually 3 or 4 and older. Cummings and Sollars elementary schools have Preschool Services for Children with Disabilities classrooms that serve about 30 3- to 5-year-olds between the two locations. Some children have hearing or vision delays, autism, mild cerebral palsy or learning or other developmental delays or disabilities, said Cummings PSCD teacher Louise Warner.

“If we have a question about a child’s motor skills, for example, we get the parents’ permission to have EDIS come in,” Warner said. “EDIS comes to the classroom to provide these services.”

Many developmentally-behind children, through early intervention, catch up by kindergarten; others continue to receive special-education services through DODDS and EDIS.

The earlier a developmental delay or disability is caught, the better chance a child has of catching up to his or her peers, said Dumas and Warner.

Wait until a child enters school, and his “skills may be so far behind or he’s developed bad habits and is compensating in ways that are inappropriate,” Warner said. “They end up having additional problems within the school setting.”

While signs of a developmental problem vary by age, a good rule of thumb, when a child is young, is “to look at other children, see what they’re doing. With walking, running, speaking, how they play, eye contact, just comparing them with other kids,” Dumas said.

Parents with concerns or questions about the developmental progress of their infants or toddlers may call EDIS at DSN 226-9039 or visit Building 94 from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Parents of preschoolers or school-age children should contact their DODDS school.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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