January 8, 2020
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Jennifer and Ryan Nankivell and their two children Whitney and Clayton.

Jennifer and Ryan Nankivell felt their first-born child, Whitney, was at risk for developmental delays after she spent her first two months in a neonatal intensive care unit because of her premature birth at 29 weeks. It came as no surprise when they noticed Whitney favoring one side when she started crawling, prompting the new parents to seek help.

They turned to the HHS Early Childhood Intervention program, a statewide comprehensive system of services that provides early intervention for infants and toddlers from birth to 36 months who have developmental delays, disabilities or a medical condition likely to lead to a developmental delay.

ECI professionals visited the Nankivells at their Arlington home to evaluate Whitney and determined she could benefit from services. Those services could include access to early intervention specialists, nurses, psychologists, dietitians, social workers and physical, occupational, speech and language therapists.

ECI helps babies and toddlers learn skills they typically develop during the first three years of life. The wide array of services address a child’s growth and development and target any delays across all developmental domains, including:

  • Cognition (thinking, learning and solving problems).
  • Communication (talking, listening and understanding).
  • Fine and gross motor skills (reaching, grabbing, rolling, walking and sitting).
  • Personal-social development (interacting with others, controlling emotions, feeling secure, and building and maintaining relationships).
  • Adaptive development (eating, dressing and bathing).

Whitney’s parents and the ECI team worked closely together to develop an individualized family service plan that identified the family’s daily routines and the child’s strengths and needs.

“We really wanted her walking to improve,” Jennifer Nankivell said. “Our physical therapist was amazing and helped us see all the opportunities around the house we could use to challenge Whitney.”

Ryan and Jennifer learned how to help improve Whitney’s ability to walk by stacking toys at different levels and encouraging her to step over them. They improved her balance by having her stand on top of blocks and holding her position. Within a few months, Whitney was on target with her development and no longer needed ECI services.

A few years later, the Nankivells unexpectedly turned to ECI again when their second child, Clayton, wasn’t walking as his 2nd birthday approached. The parents self-referred Clayton for ECI and, following a quick evaluation, he was enrolled in the program. The initial goal was to have him walking by preschool, which he started doing quickly with the help of professionals provided by the program.

“The approach that ECI takes of being there to help the child and family is something you can’t put a price on,” Jennifer said. “I would tell any parent to call ECI because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Parenting is hard, and parenting a child who isn’t meeting the milestones is even harder. You are constantly second-guessing yourself, your decisions and even your child. Why wouldn’t you want to bring in someone, or a team, that cares about your child and your family’s success?”

Today, Whitney is a happy 6-year-old girl in the first grade, and her brother, Clayton, 4, was diagnosed with autism and continues to improve his motor and verbal skills.

“We are proud to say that the Early Childhood Intervention program in Texas has been a catalyst for positive outcomes for children and families for 35 years,” ECI Director Dana McGrath said.

ECI served 60,596 young Texans in fiscal year 2019.

To learn more, visit the HHS ECI webpage.

Getting ECI Services
ECI determines eligibility for infants and toddlers living in Texas who are birth to 36 months based on one or more of the following criteria:
  • A medically diagnosed condition
  • An auditory or visual impairment
  • A developmental delay

To locate a program in your area, visit the ECI Program Search webpage or call 877-787-8999.