Celebrating 40 years of supporting infants and toddler

For decades, trailblazing work has put families and young children first

Adults holding young children sit in a circle while a teacher plays a guitar in 1982.

A look back at the Infant Toddler Program in 1982.

September 25, 2020

In 1980, a handful of families arrived at Perkins for the first day of the Infant-Toddler Program. Designed for children from birth to age 3 with visual impairments or deafblindness and their parents, the program was groundbreaking. At that time, there were few, if any, disability programs for infants and toddlers.

Perkins’ innovative leadership changed that, ensuring access to services for children in crucial early stages of development — when their brains are the most open to learning, according to research.

Now, thanks in part to generous contributors like you, the Infant-Toddler Program directly supports 575 children and families annually. In addition to teaching skills for learning and play, it empowers families through supportive community and parent connections — families like Jessie and John’s.

When their 3-month-old daughter Addy was diagnosed with a rare eye disorder, Jessie and John were referred to Perkins. Arriving for the first day, Jessie, still navigating life as a new mom, was excited but nervous. “Within weeks, I felt like we were one big family,” she says. “Perkins provided what endless hours of internet searching did not: hope.”

And, Jessie adds, her family’s outlook shifted: “Our daughter’s diagnosis does not define her.” At age 3, Addy graduated in a ceremony that included singing and a celebration of her strengths. Now in preschool, Addy is thriving!

Education Director of Community Programs Teri Turgeon was also a parent in the program over 20 years ago. The comforting message she received then is the same she gives parents like Jessie today: “We’re always going to be here as a resource for you.”

After 40 years, the program is proud to continue to be Massachusetts’ sole provider of vision services for infants and toddlers. And, it’s always innovating. Before the pandemic necessitated it, Turgeon had initiated a telehealth program, which is proving incredibly effective for many reasons.

On top of smoother scheduling for specialist consults, virtual sessions mean additional family members, like a grandparent, can easily attend. And caregivers are learning how to be more hands-on than ever in skills work. “If I can teach a parent those strategies, they’re more likely to do them at feeding time, at playtime, at bedtime,” Turgeon explains. “We continue to pivot to meet the needs of families. It’s what we do.”

With your support, the Infant-Toddler Program will keep breaking ground. Together, we can make sure all children receive the strong foundation they need to thrive.

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