It can be rewarding to watch a child hit milestones and transition into a new stage in life. But many parents are dealing with the uncertainties that come with having a child who has developmental delays. If you’ve found yourself asking “Shouldn’t my child be [sitting up, talking, walking, etc.] by now ?” and you have concerns about your child’s development, contact your state’s Early Intervention program and look into occupational therapy.
Early Intervention (EI) is a publically funded program. Every state in this country offers EI to address developmental concerns or disabilities for children ages 0-3 and their families. Research shows that the earlier children receive early intervention for developmental delays, the better their outcomes.
Navigating delays can be frustrating, whether you’re a new parent getting acclimated to raising a child for the first time or an experienced parent whose child doesn’t perform the way their other children had. Early Intervention offers a plethora of services for support such as:
- physical, occupational, speech, developmental, and behavioral therapies,
- assistive technology, and more.
Oftentimes, early intervention is a family’s first introduction to the world of therapy. While it can be overwhelming to navigate occupational therapy and all of the early intervention services offered on top of managing your day-to-day life, it’s good to advocate for your needs during the short time frame that you have access to services. The following tips can help you advocate for your child and family in early intervention.
1. Talk to your child’s doctor about early intervention.
Before entering an EI program, express your concerns to your child’s pediatrician, neurologist, or psychologist. Children do not necessarily develop at the exact same rate, so one child may meet a milestone earlier or later than another and still be considered developmentally appropriate.
Pediatricians are knowledgeable about the developmental milestones children should go through and when it should be achieved. If there are any concerns, they are required to make a referral to your state’s early intervention program.
You can also express your concerns to other professionals such as daycare staff or social workers for additional feedback to validate your concerns. If your concerns are dismissed or if you still aren’t satisfied, you can make a referral yourself by contacting your local EI department and expressing your concerns and requesting an evaluation. What you’ll need to have in the referral will vary by state. You can find your local early intervention department’s contact information on the CDC.
A referral doesn’t necessarily mean your child will qualify for services, but it’s a good starting point to see where your child falls developmentally and if there are other resources your family can access.
2. Gather information about your child to help out early intervention providers.
Collect as much documentation as you can on your child including their medical history, medications list, daycare reports, adoption records, and any relevant information related to their development.
Take videos if there is a particular behavior you’re concerned about. Oftentimes, a child may act differently during an evaluation because they’re shy or are aware a new person is observing them. Having several forms of documentation of your concerns help early intervention providers paint a full and accurate picture of your child.
3. Ask questions.
Write down your list of concerns so you won’t forget them during the evaluation. Ask the service provider what their specific job entails. There may be many providers coming in and out of your home, so it’s good to know who does what.
4. Ask about other early intervention resources available in the community.
Early intervention services like occupational therapy only last until a child turns 3 years old. At that point, services are directed to their school. (They can also be picked up by outpatient services, which you would have to coordinate yourself.)
While early intervention helps you transition out of the system, it’s good to know what resources are already available before starting that transition process. Resources may include parent support groups, camps, accessible playgrounds, dentists that specialize in serving children with special needs, or playgroups for siblings.
The types of resources your community offers may vary, but your service coordinator would be familiar with local resources that other families utilize. You can also contact your local department of human services, school system, or library for programs and groups that would best suit your needs.
When you’re in a therapy session, be present and hands on, Ask questions about what you observe so you can do what the therapist recommends throughout the week. Typically a therapy session will occur for an hour on a weekly basis. (It may vary depending on the child.) However, with such a short therapy time frame, it’s imperative parents do the homework and carry over the therapist’s recommendations into the rest of the week. Just like regular exercise is beneficial for conditioning the body, children learn new skills when it is reinforced several times a week.
5. Ask for (and accept) help.
While there are services specifically for your child, there are other services that help support you.
Each child is assigned a service coordinator who coordinates all services for your family such as translators, counseling, respite, and more. If a service is not offered under early intervention, your service coordinator can refer you to other departments that offer the service you need.
Within the first three years of life, a child’s brain is constantly growing and adapting. (This is known as plasticity.) While it is never too late to start therapy, it is most beneficial that they receive intervention during this phase of life while the brain is most “plastic” should they have developmental delays.
The earlier they receive quality services, the more likely the brain can adapt to positive learning experiences gained through therapy and other development-based interventions. If you have any concerns regarding your child’s development, notify your child’s health care provider and contact your local early intervention department.