Unfortunately, being unsure during parenthood is not a rarity. No one has all the answers. But knowing what to do and knowing your options when you have concerns or feel unsure about your child’s development can be life-changing.
Trust Your Instincts
Most parents don’t forget the event that pushes them over the edge from noticing things that cause them to feel some concern, to knowing that it is time to reach out for help. It may be that your 11 month old is not sitting up when the rest of the babies in play group are crawling and pulling to stand. It may be when your almost two year old has only a few single words when peers are beginning to group words together. Or, it could be the feeling that no matter what you do, your child can be inconsolable, doesn’t seem to acknowledge you, or doesn’t respond to his or her name. Parents can feel scared, isolated, even embarrassed when they feel there may be a developmental delay. Sometimes one parent acknowledges that something doesn’t seem right, while the other thinks everything is fine. Family members and friends may think you are being neurotic. I say, go with your gut. Parents know their child best and they should trust their instincts. As a colleague recently said, “if your child had a sore throat and fever you’d take them to the doctor.” The same should be true if you have concerns about your child hitting development milestones.
Get Your Child Screened
Pediatricians should be screening your child at periodic well child visits during the first 3 years of life. If you feel like something is wrong with your child’s development, set up an appointment and ask that they screen your child again. Tell your pediatrician your specific concerns so that they can be sure to evaluate that area of your child’s development. As your child’s advocate, you must ask the doctor for what you need. This is often not a position parents feel comfortable in. Try to put aside your reluctance and be your child’s voice. If your pediatrician is not concerned, schedule another appointment to re-check the situation in a month. You can also ask for additional information about typical development so that you can keep an eye on things at home.
Consider Early Intervention Programs
If you feel strongly that your child is not progressing typically (not every pediatrician is an expert on the specifics of development or behavior), ask for a referral to a specialist or contact information for the Early Intervention (EI) program in your state. While pediatricians can refer children to the Early Intervention program, parents can also make a “self-referral.” Early Intervention serves children birth-3 years old with delays in physical, communication, cognitive, adaptive, or social/emotional development. Parents are referred to an agency that will coordinate your child’s case from evaluations to finding service providers who are the right fit for your family. In most states, early intervention comes at no cost, or a greatly reduced cost, to a family.
Through the country, licensed, private therapists are also available to evaluate and work with children. Some parents prefer this option. Others may go this route if their child, after state evaluation, does not qualify for the Early Intervention program. Aware that the early intervention process can take some time, many parents will use a private therapist in the interim, while they wait for state services to be approved. In situations where children have a more significant delay or challenge, families may use private therapists to supplement the services they have been given by the state. Whichever path you choose, it is essential to have a professional listen to your concerns and assess your child.
Early Intervention is Key
Bottom line…act now! Early identification of developmental delays is critical and can have a considerable effect on your child’s development. As you go through the process, you might consider looking for a support group with other parents who are currently, or have recently, gone through the early intervention process with their children. At any time throughout your child’s life, if they appear to be struggling or you have concerns about their development, get help. Parents know their children best. And it is parents who can help their children thrive.
(Note: While this article focuses on Early Intervention and children birth to 3, the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) offers evaluations and services for children 3 to 5. Additionally, there is a program that specializes in children over 5. Whatever your child’s age, you know them best and are their best advocate. If you have concerns about development, behavior or parenting skills, try to be proactive).