COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For the past year and a half, young children with special needs in the Midlands have had access to a program that may otherwise be difficult to find.
It's called "Bridges" and it's unique to The Therapy Place in Columbia. Program directors say community support helps to make it possible, and this coming Monday, the community will tee off again at The Therapy Places' Fifth Annual Golf Tournament to help give more toddlers this opportunity.
The goal of Bridges is to unite therapy and school for special needs children ages two through five. "We are bridging the gap between early intervention services which are zero to three and then school environments," said Erin Bellinger, the Director of Bridges.
Directors say this age group often falls into a gap where they can get lost in a traditional daycare or pre-school setting. "If they were just in a daycare or in a pre-school, they don't always have the right knowledge or equipment or training to be able to handle children like this," said Bellinger.
Bellinger adds therapy for a special needs child has traditionally been separate from their schooling, but she says Bridges brings it all together.
"We have story time, art time and music time, calendar and the weather, and we're also able to combine what they need therapeutically so we have physical, occupational and speech therapists that work with us all day long in order to meet the needs of all of these kids," added Bellinger.
In this specialized setting, directors say children can get three times the amount of therapy they would traditionally.
"I know that they're meeting their goals faster than they would in any other kind of environment," said Bellinger. "It's because any time you put this amount of time into something, (and we have some kids here for 30 hours a week), but anytime you have that much work and effort you're going to see bigger growth, at a faster rate."
While therapy is often covered under insurance, Bridges is not. So to be able to provide the program, The Therapy Place also relies on grants and fundraisers. "The fundraisers and the grants allow us to extend scholarships and financial assistance to families to be able to pay for those," said Dawn Darby the Executive Director of The Therapy Place.
Darby says their upcoming golf tournament at Spring Valley Country Club on Monday should allow them to expand the "Bridges" program. "The children in the gap are so many, we think the program needs to expand and that's what this fundraiser is going to allow us to do," she added.
The Therapy Place says as far as they know, Bridges is the only program of its kind in the Midlands.