Developmental Intervention: The Need for Help vs. Parental Anxiety
When Nicole's daughter Ellie was little, the California mom suspected that her daughter's speech might be seriously delayed, and that the two-year-old might even be having trouble understanding and processing what people were saying.
"My husband and I definitely sensed something was wrong, but we pushed it under the rug," says Nicole. "We consulted our pediatrician but he said she was fine." It wasn't until a neighboring nanny asked whether Ellie was retarded that Nicole finally realized something was seriously wrong. "I knew that I could be angry at the woman or I could choose to hear what she was saying," Nicole says. "I decided it was time we finally did something."
It can be overwhelming to think that your child isn't hitting important development milestones, and many parents don't know where to turn for help.
"Pediatricians are often hesitant to recommend testing because there is such a wide range for developmental milestones such as talking or walking," says Darlene Pasciutti, a Long Island-based speech pathologist. "They specialize in physical sickness, and aren't always trained to recognize behavioral, developmental, or communicative delays."
Jenifer Jacobs-Wein, a New York-based occupational therapist, agrees, adding that many pediatricians are also concerned with over-diagnosing children with developmental delays. "Nowadays, so many parents want to get extra help for their children if they're not meeting milestones at the earliest of the age range," says Jacobs-Wein. "I often see parents pushing for services their kids don't need, wanting their children to be the best at everything."
Lynne Oxboel, a licensed clinical social worker based in New York, also sees parents pushing for early intervention help when their children don't need it, thanks in part to the increasing pressure parents and children face to excel. "For the most part, getting your child extra help, even if it's not necessary, won't hurt them," she says. "But you need to address what's fueling it - a real need for help or your anxiety as a parent."
Still, if you're concerned that your child isn't meeting important milestones, the earlier you get help, the better off your child will be. "If your pediatrician isn't responsive to your concerns, contact your local school district - even if your child is preschool age or younger - and ask them to direct you to local agencies that can evaluate your child for early intervention help," says Jacobs-Wein.
Friends can also be a great resource when you're unsure of where to turn, says Oxboel. "As much as you may not want to talk about your child's problems, it's important to reach out to your network of friends because someone may have an important resource for you," she says. "Someone may have read about a great new program, or know of someone whose child got help for a similar issue."
That's exactly what happened to Nicole when she finally did seek help for her daughter Ellie. "A friend directed us to the clinic where Ellie now receives services," she explains. The family learned that Ellie has an audio processing disorder, where something adversely affects how a person interprets sound.
Unfortunately, getting help hasn't been easy for Nicole and her husband. "Our health insurance won't cover the cost of the services," says Nicole. "We decided we had to pay for it ourselves, and it's been a huge financial drain on our family." Despite the expense, Nicole wouldn't have it any other way. Getting help has made a huge difference for Ellie, who at five is now mostly caught up developmentally with her peers. "Recently Ellie recounted a whole story to me," Nicole says. "That wouldn't have happened a few months earlier."
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