Progress in baby steps

Sandra Van Nest.

Sandra Van Nest believes in taking baby steps.

A licensed clinical social worker and developmental interventionist in New Jersey’s Early Intervention system, Van Nest often is confronted with “two-year-olds who don’t know how to indicate what they want.  They don’t have any words.  They don’t really pay attention to the people around them.  By slowly and surely working with them for several hours a week, over a year or 1 1/2 years, I watch them go from that to, by age three, looking at their mother when she comes in the door and saying, ‘Momma’. That’s absolutely the most amazing thing. They’re learning how to speak, and they’re doing those intellectual things; and they’re also catching up on that emotional side; and they’re really connecting with the people in their world.”

Van Nest is also a field supervisor in Matheny’s community services program.  In that role, she is now coordinating a new project  to teach social skills to two-and three-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, or who have difficulties with sensory integration. “Parents of the children I see,” she explains, “often report to me that their children really have a hard time being in a group or out in public.  Their children have a hard time with the loud sounds, bright lights and unpredictability of their toddler peers.  And, if you are a child who doesn’t speak, the only way to show your displeasure is to yell, cry or tantrum.  These parents are looking for a way to help their children feel more comfortable in groups of peers and other public places.”

The New Jersey Early Intervention system, she points out, “does not usually provide for group work.  It is a wonderful system that emphasizes the individual child and his or her family.  However, the parents are looking for other therapy options that include small groups with an emphasis on social skills.  We, at Matheny, are excited to be filling this need within our community.”

If you’d like more information about this program, call (908) 234-0011, ext. 751 or email