Pamela Cummings, Project Coordinator and Physical Therapy consultant, shared more about the Early Intervention project, how she got into this specialized field, what’s to come, and how this work has become so meaningful to her.
I-Team Early Intervention
You may have heard of the Vermont Interdisciplinary Team, more often referred to as the I-Team as they have been around for more than forty years and provide services to many of Vermont’s schools. The Vermont I-Team Early Intervention Project (I-Team EI) has the shares the same mission of providing training and support to teams but focuses on the first three years of life. In addition to Cummings, the team consists of an Occupational Therapy consultant (Rebecca Grimm), a Communication consultant who specializes in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (Amy Starble), an Educational consultant (Tammy Myers), and two Family Resources Consultants (Tammy Willey and Donna Gillen). This interdisciplinary team works across the state to support early intervention teams working with children with complex medical and developmental profiles.
“We believe that all children, especially children with complex needs should be able to have full access of and participation in their homes, schools, and community,” Pamela shared. In order to provide the support that will build towards this vision, I-Team EI uses a “routines-based approach to help children feel Safe, Prepared, Heard, Empowered, Joyful, and Engaged within the routines of their everyday life.”
Working with children in this capacity was not originally part of Pamela’s plan. After finishing her degree in Physical Therapy at UVM, she traveled to San Francisco where worked in a large teaching hospital and participated in 6-month rotations. “I was still hesitant to work with children, but my best friend was the pediatric clinical specialist and she convinced me to try it. I ended up staying for over a year and never looked back,” she said. Pam found many unique opportunities there and later in New Hampshire, including neonatal and pediatric Intensive Care, Obstetrics/Gynecology, and pediatric oncology and trauma. One of the greatest differences and biggest challenges wound up being the structure of the hospitals. Out West, Pamela was working with other physical therapists, but this was not the case for the demanding work in New Hampshire: “This was my most emotionally challenging job as I worked primarily with pediatric oncology and pediatric trauma and was also the only pediatric PT on staff. I really missed having a team.”
Pamela and her husband moved back to Vermont and she worked for over a decade in outpatient and medical clinics which broadened her scope of pediatric practice before further specializing in early intervention (birth- age 3) with the Visiting Nurses Association. “found myself taking on the children with more complex disorders as well as expanding my knowledge of mobility and positioning equipment,” she said.
Pamela knew she had found expertise in a field where others did not feel so well equipped. She and a friend who worked with the Vermont I-Team discussed the need for the need around Vermont for a “Baby I-Team” to get specialized supports for the children who needed it most.
“She told me a story about an infant sent home from the hospital with significant medical and development challenges. His local PT was very kind and well-intentioned but told his family that she had minimal to offer them. This was heartbreaking to hear. I realized that I had a lot of knowledge about how to support children with intensive needs to share. We piloted what became the ‘I-Team Early Intervention Project’ for about 6 months and then it was launched in 2015.”
I-Team EI has been supporting early intervention teams around the state since, including that young boy. “We were able to support his team to provide him with appropriate equipment, including positioning equipment and an AAC device, to support his ability to access his daily activities,” Pam shared. “He will be transitioning into Kindergarten soon and will be an active contributing participant in his classroom.”
Challenges and Motivation
Pamela noted that the biggest challenges and excitement for the future come with the transition of services for children. Early Intervention services are provided under Part C of the The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and preschool services are provided under Part B. For especially complex profiles, the transition between the two can be intense. “It is an emotionally challenging transition for families and unfortunately does not always happen smoothly,” Pam shared. “I-Team EI offers teams support around this transition and is working toward a more structured approach to our transition support.” The project is working to provide more offerings for teams and families in this process, including a “transition package” that would include “support around early planning via a facilitated meeting bringing the EI team, family and preschool team together; team trainings; and support for teams to write Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals that are collaborative and based on the routines of the school day.”
Pam finds motivation not only in the work she does but also the people with whom she works: “I work with a group of talented, smart and motivated women who are experts in their disciplines and passionate about this work. I learn something new almost every day.” She is excited for what lies ahead because of the positive outcomes I-Team EI provides and their lasting effect:
“I can honestly say that this is the best job that I have ever had and that looking back on my career, all the things that I did and learned have led me to this position. I love the work we do because we have a positive impact on teams, families, and children. Through our trainings, we can have an even bigger impact on providers across the state. We have the opportunity to meet talented and hard-working EI providers across the state and to spend time collaborating with them and learning from them.“