I looked at my beautiful baby girl. Long, dark hair that I had not yet let a pair of scissors touch. Her daddy’s unique hazel eyes and dark, long lashes.
She looked at me. Put her little hands on either side of my face and leaned forward to push her face against mine.
How I longed to hear that word. How I waited with baited breath, thinking every single day, “maybe she’ll say it today.”
Yet day after did, she didn’t. I could see the word in her eyes. The way she looked at me with her head tilted sideways, the way she would find me and take my hand when she wanted to draw my attention to something. Her contagious twinkle of laughter when we tickled her or when her brother did something silly.
But at 18 months old, I had yet to hear my daughter call for her mama- or say anything else, for that matter.
Working in education, I had an understanding of milestones and what to expect in child development. Working in special education, I also had access to speech language pathologists to grill with questions about what I should expect to hear in speech and what I should do when I realized that what should be happening wasn’t.
And perhaps most importantly, I knew how vital it was to get my daughter the help she needed, instead of brushing it off and assuming she would simply catch up. I understood how early intervention is often the difference between a child who can catch up and one who can’t.
I also realized that because of my career choice, I was not the norm in having that knowledge. Not every parent has a clear understanding of developmental milestones; not every parent knows what they should do when they think that they aren’t being met; and unfortunately, not every parent has easy access to resources that can help.
So how do I know if my child is developing the way he should be?
Your child’s pediatrician should have you fill out developmental screenings at well visit checkups. Fill out those screenings honestly! If your doctor is concerned about any areas that appear to be behind, he will likely ask you for more detail. If this does not happen and you still have concerns, don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your own research. There is nothing shameful about a child who is not hitting milestones when they should; sometimes kids just need a little extra help to figure things out. Above all, listen to yourself and trust your instincts. You know your child best!
I think my child may not be developing the way she should be. What do I do now?
In 1986 Congress established early intervention services for infants and toddlers, based on an “urgent and substantial need.” Now known as IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act), Part C Program of this Act specifically addresses early intervention services. For a more detailed (if boring!) explanation of the history of early intervention services, look here.
As a parent, the important thing to know is that ALL states and eligible United States territories participate in the Part C Program. This means that ALL states and eligible territories must follow certain regulations. Those regulations include providing early intervention services to any infant or toddler that is eligible for them and a referral system for identifying those children.
The best place to start for finding out how the referral system works in your area of the country is by reaching out to your child’s pediatrician. There is nothing wrong with doing your own research online, but don’t become overwhelmed by the thousands of options. I’ve narrowed online resources down to a few that I believe are helpful and easy to navigate.
Autism Speaks is an organization dedicated to the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. This includes children being diagnosed before the age of two and having access to appropriate interventions and services immediately upon diagnosis. They provide a wealth of information and resources on their website, including more detailed guidance on how to screen your child here, a list of Early Intervention Offices by state here and other state and local resource guides here.
The Autism Society of America is another organization dedicated to providing advocacy and information throughout the United States, with local and state affiliates all around the country. Their website holds a plethora of information about Autism, including links to more detailed information about early signs and diagnosis. Most Autism Society affiliates are made up of volunteers; most often parents, educators, professionals and community leaders. They can help guide parents towards resources and assist with navigating the referral process. Their chapters, listed by state can be found here.
The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) is a user friendly site with material that has been created and archived for the use of Parent Centers around the country. Their resource library allows for easy navigation of search terms and you can find a list of the physical locations of Parent Centers near you here.
My daughter says that word (and many more!) every day now. At almost 4 years old, she still has once a week services to work on the articulation of her words. I see progress every week and it is no doubt a testament of how important early intervention was for her.
So if you don’t know…
If you have concerns…
If you have a little nagging voice telling you that maybe… maybe…
Listen to it. Reach out and speak up.