HAMILTON – It’s been a little less than a year since a miracle of sorts happened in the life of then 2-year-old Easton Fryer.

On that day, the young boy had tagged along with his mother, Sarah, and an older sibling to the annual Help a Child Grow preschool screening hosted by the Ravalli County Education Cooperative.

The plan had been to register the older of the two for kindergarten.

As the trio was settling in at the first station, the cooperative’s speech therapist Terese Athman leaned over from the table next door to say hello to Easton.

He didn’t offer much of a verbal response.

“I told her that he really doesn’t talk,” Sarah Fryer said. “He signs really well. He knows 50 signs, but he doesn’t talk.”

On that day, Easton’s vocabulary was limited to seven words.

Turns out that the young boy’s aversion to the spoken word was a perfect example of why the cooperative hosts the annual screenings.

Early intervention can make the world of difference in a child’s life.

“Terese found me later,” Fryer said. “She told me ‘We’re happy you’re here with your kindergartner, but we need your little guy.’ ”

*****

A year later, the now 3-year-old’s vocabulary has grown dramatically to something close to 450 words and he’s putting full sentences together to delight of his mother.

Just the other night, he showed off his new abilities when the family drove by a large cottonwood tree that had fallen over this past winter.

“He said: ‘Momma, a giant beaver cut down that giant tree with his very sharp teeth,’ ” Fryer said, with a smile. “He is a little dramatic. He’s like me now.”

That huge jump in the boy’s ability to communicate will pay large dividends when he sits down in his first regular classroom.

With the progress that’s been made in this past year, Athman believes there’s a good chance the young boy will be right at grade level when he enters kindergarten.

That means that he won’t have to be pulled from class for additional speech therapy. It also means that he won’t worry about being able to communicate with his peers once he enters the school system.

“This is a good example of why we recommend that all children go through the preschool screening as young as possible,” Athman said. “We truly believe that early intervention can open up a child’s world.”

This year’s screenings begin Monday, March 17, in Corvallis and will continue through March 28 at a total of eight school locations.

The preschool screening program is mandated under the federal Individuals with Disability Education Act, which requires schools to locate, evaluate and identify all children in need of intervention. The screenings are for children up to 6 years old and include tests for vision, hearing, speech/language and physical development.

There is no charge. While appointments are preferred, walk-ins are also accepted at all sites. All sites also include kindergarten registration.

Parents not accompanying a child to the screening should ask the school secretary to mail them a consent form. That form needs to accompany the child to the screening.

Parents should bring a copy of their child’s immunization records to the screening. Those registering a child for kindergarten need to bring a copy of the child’s birth certificate.

“The screenings do take a little bit of time, but they provide a parent with a record,” Athman said. “They can take a lot of fear away too just by providing peace of mind.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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