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I Think My Child Might Have a Special Need

Jennifer Byde Myers
June 21, 2017

Feel something could be wrong? Use this guide to get the answers you need.

It can be an unsettling when you think your child is developing differently. You might be noticing differences when you are at a playgroup, or when you naturally compare your little one's abilities to memories of an older sibling's development. It almost doesn't matter what the books and charts say; if you think something is not going as you thought it would for your child, as parents, we are hard to convince otherwise. No one sees all the things we see. And no one can possibly feel the same love and devotion we feel. Sometimes it's a 'gut feeling' you just have to trust, or at least see through.

Tracking your child's development is a normal part of parenting. Dr. Georgina Peacock is a medical officer and developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Center for Disease Control and works with health care professionals and early educators for the "Learn the Signs. Act Early" campaign to help parents track the milestones. She shares, "As your child is developing, it is important to monitor how he or she plays, learns, speaks and acts." 

"Remember that all children develop at their own pace but if you're concerned, it is important to act on that concern." A few specific developmental points Dr. Peacock suggests monitoring:

  • If your child is having trouble communicating needs, such as letting someone know when they're hungry or hurt.
  • If they seem usually sad or disconnected from those around them.
  • If they don't move around like other children their age

So what do you do if you see some differences? First take a deep breath, then you can start on a simple action plan.

Confirm a concern

 The first recommended step is to talk to others, Dr. Peacock says, "Talk with your child's care provider or preschool teacher to see if they have similar concerns."  You may question whether to discuss what you are observing in your child, however, these professionals see many children over the course of their careers, and by sharing your concerns they may be able to offer another perspective about your child's development, or confirm a developmental need.

Make an appointment

If your gut instinct is to investigate this further, address the concern with your child's pediatrician as soon as possible. It's best to start the discussion, so you're not overwhelmed worrying while waiting for your next well-visit. Dr. Peacock also suggests that you take a copy of the milestone checklist with you to the pediatrician or childcare provider when you go to talk about your child's development. It can be easier to talk about your concerns when they are written down. While you are there, don't forget to take notes. This information can be very helpful if you meet with specialists in the future.

Contact Early Intervention

Your child's pediatrician will be able to help you connect with early intervention services in your area for a "child find" evaluation," but you can also go online to NICHY, the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities to find early intervention resources in your state. There are different programs available for children under three.

Ask for a referral

The CDC recommends that you ask to see a specialist if your child needs more in-depth evaluation. Developmental pediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other doctors specialize in specific developmental issues, or can help narrow down the issues. Wherever your first concerns take you, Dr. Peacock reminds us, "There are people who can help support your child's development. For example, if your child has delayed speech or is having trouble walking, therapists trained to work with children can work with you to support your child's development."

Find support

"Most importantly, know that you're not alone." There are many support organizations that provide information and direction. "Reach out to other parents who have children with similar issues." One organization Dr. Peacock suggests is Family Voices which helps connect families and is particularly great for families with health-related disabilities. Additionally, the National Parent Technical Assistance Center Network  is a supportive resource, providing training and resources to families (Find the Parent Center in your community).  Community is important for each of us, but having someone to talk with who really understands your personal experience can be invaluable.

Celebrate little moments

Whether you're waiting for doctors appointments, test results or you've received daunting news, it's important to still find time to focus on your family relationships, explains Lynette Fraga, Ph.D and Vice President of Early Care & Education and Special Populations at Care.com.  "Story time, bath time, a loving note in the lunch box, or a playful walk with the dog are ways to connect and reconnect with your kids and your partner.  A loving smile or hug during a stressful time can go a long way," Dr. Fraga explains.

Dr. Fraga also stresses the importance of scheduling time to have moments just for you. "You're giving so much, finding time for yourself is critical to be able to nurture your child(ren) and family," she states.

With just a few steps you can get your family back on track. More importantly you can get the early intervention your child might need to ensure your child reaches his or her full potential.

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