Venturing out into the world of the walking is a huge universal milestone for children and their families, but for Aaron it was especially sweet. The now four-year-old was born with Down syndrome, which requires rigorous work to meet developmental milestones.
“It’s something that these children have to work really hard to do,” his mother Angie Hernandez said. “Typical children get there in their own time, but they get there and it’s not so much of a struggle. But kids with special needs really have to work to get to the next step.”
They often require help from professionals to learn a variety of skills, including how to walk, talk and even swallow. Muscular weakness comes hand-in-hand with Down syndrome and it affects those born with it throughout their lives.
For Aaron, its effects became apparent within his first days of life. The newborn would spill about half of the milk fed to him because the muscles in his mouth were too weak to latch on correctly. A speech pathologist who made weekly house calls to the home, however, taught his mother how to fix the problem through oral motor exercises.
The therapist — who also stepped in when Aaron started pocketing solid food in his cheeks — was provided to the family through a state program facing major budget cuts. About a year ago Texas legislators slashed $350 million in state and federal funding for pediatric therapy services for children like Aaron. The cuts are scheduled to begin next week.
Texas lawmakers cut $150 million in state funds from the budget in 2015, and as a result lost $200 million in federal funding. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission plans to cut Medicaid payments made to home health agencies and providers of speech, occupational and physical therapy by about 20 percent, state Rep. Terry Canales said.
Canales is one of the many lawmakers and healthcare professionals worried about the impact the cuts will have on some of the state’s most vulnerable. He penned an op-ed in The Monitor last month, blasting the Republican-led legislature and calling for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to review the cuts and step in to save the “vital services.”
The state lawmaker attributed the cuts to several factors, including fraud and the decrease in oil and gas prices.