VILLA PARK – More than 1 million U.S. children begin kindergarten with an undiagnosed developmental delay, so Easter Seals has teamed up with producers of USA Network’s sitcom “Playing House” to raise awareness of the importance of early screening for all kids.
“The show has been very supportive of Easter Seals and our mission,” said Theresa Forthofer, president and CEO of Easter Seals DuPage and Fox Valley. “By identifying delays early, kids have more of an opportunity to be ready for kindergarten and succeed in school.”
Easter Seals DuPage and Fox Valley held a viewing party for the show’s season two finale Sept. 8 at the Villa Park location to help spread the word about screening to DuPage County families. Parents enjoyed appetizers and wine while watching “Playing House,” which mentioned Easter Seals in the episode.
“Moms from our center and moms from the community can come together to celebrate the work we do, and families can better understand the importance of screening,” Forthofer said. “And we thought this was a fun and exciting way to do that because it ties into the show.”
The sitcom is about two single women who live together while raising a child. Katy Neas, executive vice president of Easter Seals, said the show’s plot is a perfect match with Easter Seals’ mission. The nonprofit has been working with a Los Angeles consulting firm that connected them with the show’s producers.
“It was fabulous to work with them and to talk about the value of screening,” Neas said. “The actors have been so supportive of us and our message. The actresses have been fabulous and did a PSA for us. It’s been wonderful, and we couldn’t be happier to have them as a partner in getting the message out.”
While “Playing House” is done for this season, Forthofer hopes Easter Seals will continue the partnership with the program next season.
“There’s such a natural connection with this show; we can follow baby Charlotte as she gets older,” she said. “We’re celebrating the ending of this season, and we look forward to next season.”
The show is helping to promote Easter Seals’ initiative “Make the First Five Count,” which is aimed at all parents to encourage them to get their child screened, even if the child hasn’t been diagnosed with a delay or disability.
Easter Seals has a free, simple screening tool on its website that has a series of questions for parents about their child.
Neas said the online questionnaire, which evaluates children from 1 month to 5 years old, is available in English and Spanish and takes about 20 minutes to complete. Parents can take the results of the screening to their doctor or to Easter Seals for more information on how they can help their child.
“This program is absolutely working,” Neas said. “What we see is when families have the knowledge, they know what to do. It can be paralyzing if they don’t know what to do if they think their child has a delay. When kids get services they need, they gain skills that people thought were impossible. It’s life-altering, and we see it every day.”
Neas mentioned that so far, Easter Seals has screened about 40,000 children thanks to “Make the First Five Count,” and about two-thirds of those children were found to have a delay.
“Every parent should know where their kids are in developmental milestones,” she said. “It would be great if we could get parents to screen online for free every six months, because kids change a lot in those years. The screening asks questions about language development, physical development and motor skills.”
Forthofer said research has shown that brain development during the first five years affects children for the rest of their lives.
“By the time kids reach kindergarten and are not on par with peers, the disability becomes more obvious in later grades, and there’s less time to catch up,” she said. “But by identifying early, kids have more opportunity to catch up. Mild delays are often missed for years.”