Beth Judson knew things were going to be different with her third child from day two.
That's when doctors determined Judson had undiagnosed gestational diabetes that affected her daughter, Amelia. But the diagnosis that followed, however, changed the Judsons' lives forever.
Doctors also determined Amelia suffered a stroke in the womb that affected a quarter of her brain, damage that likely would cause lifelong difficulties with motor skills and speech.
While Amelia and her parents were prepared for these setbacks, many children grow up never knowing what they're up against.
There are 540,688 children in Illinois 0-3 years old, yet only 135,172 of these children are screened for disabilities, according to recent data provided by Easter Seals. About 55,850 of those not screened end up with unidentified delays or disabilities.
The Judsons are thankful Amelia wasn't such a statistic. Though living with these challenges has been difficult, Judson says that with proper medical attention and therapy, Amelia, now 2, continuously has been able to hit important milestones.
For example, by the time a child reaches 12-18 months, Easter Seals' developmental milestones guidelines say she should be able to walk on her own. Judson says Amelia reached that point with great persistence.
Early on Amelia had difficulty drinking milk. Doctors eventually told Judson her daughter would need to be on a feeding tube the rest of her life, believing that the stroke made her incapable of feeding herself. Judson didn't buy it-she decided to seek a second opinion.
"Instinctively, something didn't feel right," she says.
And it wasn't. After visiting the Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region office in Villa Park, Judson discovered her daughter did have the capability to feed naturally. The real culprit was acid reflux, which was cleared up in three months with medication.
Cara Long, a parent liaison with Easter Seals, says this type of persistence is key to keeping children on track.
"The thing I like to emphasize for parents is that they need to go with their gut feelings," Long says. "If they feel like their child isn't developing the way they should be, they should follow up. If there's a voice in the back of their head calling out concerns, they need to be empowered to seek out help."
When parents don't heed these instincts, Long says children can fall through the cracks.
That's why she says Easter Seals is promoting its Make the First Five Count program, focusing on identifying disabilities at an early age to ensure maximum treatment, preventing children with learning and health issues from entering school and falling behind their peers, leading to further, more permanent effects.
"We want kids to be school ready," Long says. "The sooner we provide therapy, the more impact we can have. Parents can't afford to wait and see."
Hilary Gowins is a freelance writer living in Chicago.