Arabella Prater received her first pair of glasses when she was 8 months old, a time when other children are crawling or scooting about and reaching for items they should not have.
The 3-year-old is extremely farsighted, has astigmatism contributing to her visual impairment, but she also has other physical issues.
"There is no one solid diagnosis," said her mother, Tiffany Prater of Georgetown. "She was about a year old when she started having more delays than we would like."
Emerson Foster, on the other hand, has hypotonia, the medical term for abnormally low muscle tone. And although she is steadily gaining muscle tone in other parts of her body, the muscles in her face are still weak.
Although her eyesight is fine, her eyelids lack the muscle tone that would allow her to open and shut them as others do.
"It was really unexpected," said her mother, Stephanie Foster, also of Georgetown. "She actually had quite a few health problems when she was born. She was in hospice care for a year. It was a lot to get used to."
Both Arabella and Emerson are adjusting to living with their visual impairment with the help of the Visually Impaired Preschool Services of Central Kentucky. They are now graduates of the program, which serves children under 3 who are blind, visually impaired or multiply disabled, through First Steps, a statewide early intervention program for the developmentally disabled and their families.
Families pay First Steps monthly according to their income, and that agency pays VIPS.
I wasn't familiar with VIPS, so I gave them a call. Founded in Louisville in 1985, VIPS also has offices in Lexington and Bloomington, Ind. Mary Moore Yohon, director of development for VIPS in Lexington, said her office has three certified early childhood teachers with master's degrees who served 85 children last year. One is also a mobility and orientation specialist in travel skills and white cane usage. The teachers visit in the child's home, using exercises, toys and gadgets to help the child adjust to his or her environment.
"If these teachers are doing their jobs they are not in the office," Yohon said.
VIPS of Central Kentucky serves families in 18 counties with weekly, biweekly or monthly visits, depending on the need. On a quarterly basis, VIPS serves families in 30 counties outside of the 60-mile radius.
That's "not ideal, but with funding, it's the best we can do," Yohon said.
The teachers take a welcome bag filled with homemade items on the first visit, and they assess the child's needs and reassure parents.
Without sight, children can't reach for a toy and build upper body strength. Some, because of the lack of sight, are hypersensitive to touch. The teachers help them to conquer their sensory aversion so that the child can learn to read braille.
"They learn incidentally," she said. "The things that most children take in by watching, our kids can't do. There are the concepts of over and under and what a tree looks like. These kids have to learn differently and piece it together."
The American Foundation for the Blind estimates 10 million people are visually impaired, which also impairs the learning process. About 80 percent of learning occurs through vision, most of that during preschool years.
At VIPS, families set goals, which are reviewed every six months and may include the child feeding independently or walking.
"We develop the strategies to help your child get there," Yohon said.
Here's an example: Prater wanted to calm Arabella's fear of grocery carts. "She was terrified of them because she couldn't see well and there was nothing under her feet," Prater said. "We had therapy in the grocery store." Now Arabella is just fine.
VIPS is one of 33 charities that has applied for and will receive a grant from the Children's Charity Fund of the Bluegrass. The fund's main fund-raiser, the Celebrity Golf Classic, has raised more than $6 million since 1981, $375,000 during last year's tournament. The charities will be presented with checks Monday.
That event is the start of a week of festivities that concludes with the 2012 golf classic on Friday and Saturday at both the Greenbrier Golf & Country Club and Andover Golf & Country Club.
"These charities all benefit children in Central Kentucky," said Ruth Ann Childers, spokesperson for the Children's Charity Fund of the Bluegrass. "A lot of these agencies were accessed by those in extreme poverty, but that is not the case any more."
For those who don't golf but would still like to donate, Childers said volunteers will be selling "Split the Pot" tickets for $5. The money from the sales is divided at the end of the week between one winner and the charity.
The $15,000 VIPS will receive will help make up the difference between First Step funding and the actual cost of visits, Yohon said.
"First Steps only reimburses about $81 per visitation," she said. "The actual cost is $175. The grant money really does help us continue to provide services."
And those services, including parent events every six weeks, have been a godsend to families.
"It was a lot of fun," Foster said of her time with VIPS. "You get to learn how to help your child and you get to be around other families with similar things going on."
For more information about VIPS, call (859) 276-0335 or 1-888-254-8477.