STORM LAKE, IA — After attending the Storm Lake Fourth of July parade in 2022, Amy Mason noticed that her daughter, Presley, was inconsolable and fussy—and she kept covering her ears.
Concerned she had an ear infection, the Masons took Presley into the clinic the next day. While the doctor said her ears were clear of any issues, he noticed that she was not talking much or mimicking his gestures, such as waving “bye.”
“[The physician] noted her developmental delays to us, but was not too concerned quite then. He wanted us to have her hearing checked by the audiologist at the AEA,” Mason says. “The next day, we went and had her hearing evaluated in their sound booth, and the audiologist passed her. However, after talking with the audiologist about our concerns and recent experiences, she gave me the phone number to contact Prairie Lake AEA’s Early Childhood intervention team.”
After an initial evaluation, it started to become apparent that Presley would need support services.
“We knew we needed extra help, and the AEA was with us every step of the way from there on out,” Mason says. “We had an awesome team that would come to our house for weekly speech lessons, as well as for child development. They helped coordinate our care with our primary physician, and outpatient speech/occupational therapy services, as well as getting Presley involved with a daycare program through the Schaller-Crestland Schools to be around other peers her age.”
The AEA team assisted Presley at school while consulting her teachers about how they could best handle certain behaviors.
“All of this was taking place while we had Presley on a waiting list through the University of Iowa to be evaluated at their facility for autism,” Mason says. “We were told the wait to get evaluated could be up to a year. We were not comfortable just sitting and waiting around until our evaluation in Iowa City, so the AEA helped us be proactive and set up a plan in the interim.”
Presley was officially diagnosed with autism in early 2023.
“As hard as it was to hear her official diagnosis, the doctors and therapists we saw that day applauded us for being proactive and not ignoring the signs,” Mason says. “They were impressed that we were already active with the AEA in our area, as well as outpatient services for Presley. From then on, I knew that Presley and our family would never be alone in this journey.”
Shortly after Presley’s third birthday, the AEA Early Childhood team turned their focus on integrating Presley into a three-year-old preschool program.
“The AEA worked with the teachers and support staff and ensured us that Presley would be safe and cared for in the manner she needed,” Mason says. “We were able to get an IEP (individualized education plan) in place for her right before she started preschool, thanks to the help of the AEA.”
Today, Preseley works regularly with providers through a collaborative IEP.
“I can confidently say that we would not be where we are today without the help of the Prairie Lakes AEA staff and our school district,” Mason says. “Additionally, I would just like to acknowledge the fact that our situation and process may look different from other families who are looking into getting a diagnosis or have a child with another type of disability or educational concern.”
“We feel for the families who will be affected by the proposed changes to the AEA, including those utilizing AEA services, but may no longer meet the new criteria for the future,” Mason continues. “It is very disheartening to see that, taking away from an organization that helps so many kids, families, teachers, and school districts. Kids and teachers deserve so much more.”
Stories like this one illustrate the value provided by AEAs across Iowa. Do you have a similar story you would like to share regarding AEA services? We would love to hear it! Share your story here: www.iowaaea.org/share-your-story.