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Our vital early intervention work in Romania

14 January 2015
Posted by Bethan Williams

Ioana with one of her therapists at the early intervention centre

During my time at Sense International, I've read a lot about our work in early intervention and have come to understand just how vital it is to ensure that any residual sight or hearing is stimulated in young babies at an early age to give them a chance for these senses to develop.

What I hadn't really appreciated is just what this means in practice and the wide range of skills required by our early intervention teams. I was recently fortunate enough to visit our partner organisation Sense International Romania and to take trips to visit their early intervention centres in Timisoara and Oradea.

At the maternity hospital in Oradea, I met Dr Filip who has been working there, in her words, 'forever'. In my words, let's just say she will have seen a very different Romania over the years. The screening and testing of babies' hearing and vision has come a long way in Dr Filip's tenancy in Oradea Maternity Hospital. From a donation of equipment by a generous donor supported by SI in 2007 to a nationwide screening and testing programme which exists at the moment, although Dr Filip is still concerned that babies are not getting the testing they require.

A baby pictured with coloured plastic balls and two support workersUnfortunately since many doctors don't know how to use the equipment or agree with the importance of testing, many babies still slip through the net. This is where SI Romania's work remains so vital. To continue advocating and raising awareness of the importance of screening is central to ensuring that babies are not only tested but also that services are established for those seen as at risk of deafblindness or single-sensory impairments.

Dr Filip and the SI Romania team told me about the story of Denis, who was one of the first babies to receive EI support and sensory stimulation in Romania. This young girl now has some sight and is able to study at mainstream school largely due to the early intervention support she received from SI Romania.

In Timisoara, I spent time with the team at the Constantin Pufan School for Inclusive Education. Two things were obvious from my time with the team in Timisoara. Firstly that the early intervention specialists have to develop a range of skills, not only to work with the babies in their care but also with the parents of these children. Many come to the centre for the first time shocked and traumatised by their children's diagnosis and the EI team work to manage expectations as well as demonstrating just how much their child can do.

A young girl with one of her therapist at the early intervention centreSecondly I learned how important the relationship with doctors is. It's not a shock to anyone to hear that some doctors aren't keen to learn about new methods and techniques. The success of the project in Timisoara, which has now been embedded into the local government system, is largely due to the positive relationship between the EI staff and the doctors at the maternity hospital.

In Timisoara the ophthalmologist who screens young babies has been working together with the EI specialist to conduct research to demonstrate just what a difference the early intervention work can have in the first six months of a babies' life. We were also able to observe two of the sessions in practice and see babies reacting to lights and sound. Seeing their parent's reactions is really something very special.

In the end I felt just so happy to have met all of these teams who are working so hard and have developed very broad skills, from counselling parents to convincing doctors about the importance of their work, and so proud to see the difference that this work can have in babies and for the rest of their lives.

Bethan Williams is a Senior Programme Manager at Sense International

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014