When D was one year old and not speaking, I called Early Intervention myself. My only concern was his (lack of) speech and I just wanted someone to evaluate him and tell me that he was fine (which he was – a perfectly fine autistic child). His regular pediatrician thought that he was “fine,” but speaking late because of his exposure to two languages. Part of me wanted to leave it at that, but there was this nagging part of me that was still worried and needed more confirmation, so I made the call and our lives were never the same.
In general, when children are small, mothers worry. They worry when they are older too, but there is something particularly worrisome about the development of a young child because they have so many milestones to reach still and often do not communicate well with us yet, and we want to believe that everything will be perfect. We may not say the word, “perfect,” but we have our dreams and expectations and we would feel some disappointment if we knew that our child would not achieve them. (Not only children with developmental delays, but “normal” children that choose things that we do not consider good for them.) This is especially true for our first child. We know that they will have bumps in the road, but we cannot imagine where those bumps will be, so we do not envision them for our child and they take us by surprise when they come and can even be painful.
In time we realize that our child is their own person. The sports fanatic dad accepts that their child does not enjoy sports. The bookworm realizes that little Johnny doesn’t like to read. These things are part of life and growth and happen to all parents at some time. Even if you are a person that enjoys diversity and just wants to support your children in their own dreams, we all have expectations without even realizing that they were there.
If your son doesn’t like baseball or your daughter won’t wear a dress, you will probably, at some point, realize that those things are trivial and embrace your child’s own interests. If they cannot speak, you will have to confront a whole new set of fears and unknown possibilities. It is that fear that keeps us from making that call, keeps us from scheduling evaluations, keeps us from hearing others’ concerns about our child. Working in Early Intervention, I see a lot of concerned mommies, especially when they first begin therapy. Last week they had a “normal” child that had a happy, carefree childhood and a bright future. Now, they have a problem to fix. They may feel that their child is suddenly “broken” and facing an unknown future. Will they ever speak? Will they have to attend Special Education? Will they able to go to college? Get married? Be happy? Fulfilled?
What I would like to tell these worried mommies, is that their child is not suddenly “broken.” The only children in the world are imperfect ones and if your child’s struggles can be addressed in a way they will enjoy, then they are very fortunate! The vast majority of kids in Early Intervention will actually be very successful academically because the fact that they are in E.I. is proof that they have a parent or caregiver who cares, wants to help them succeed and will seek help, in spite of their fears. **
Here are some other common questions I have received:
I think he/she will outgrow these delays. Shouldn’t I wait?
Why wait? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you wait, the delays may get worse.
Will participation in Early Intervention services go on my child’s “permanent record” or put them automatically in Special Education?
There really is no “permanent record,” and if there were, participation in E.I. would just mean “concerned and involved parent,” not that there is something “wrong” with this child. There are MANY laws to protect your child’s privacy. Most parents do tell their child’s school about services received in E.I., but that is up to you and school placement is based on your child’s ability at the time. Most kids in E.I. will not go through school in Special Education. They may be eligible for an Early Childhood (preschool) program to supports development, but the majority will be doing great in regular classrooms in elementary school.
I don’t want to turn my child into a “patient” with therapies, when he seems to be “fine.”
Most Early Intervention providers are very good and treating the child as an individual. The therapies are play-based and the child usually has a great time! You are getting someone to come and play with your child in a way that will encourage their development. You get a private “teacher” for your child who comes to you!
I don’t want that many people in my house on a regular basis.
First of all, if you are worried about a messy house or out of control siblings, most likely the therapist has seen much, much worse. Having the therapy at home is ideal because the therapist sees the child in his/her natural environment. They are teaching your child, but most importantly they are teaching the parent, which brings me to…
I don’t want a stranger coming in telling me how to raise my child.
They really do not expect you to follow every suggestion, but they will try to give you ideas that you can incorporate into your daily life. They may tell you to encourage your child to make the sign “more” at meal time when they want more food. They may show you positions that your child can use to sit that will strengthen their muscles. Most of the ideas are simple, but a person who is not a therapist may not think of them.
What if I don’t like the therapist?
You can request a new therapist at any time! Maybe you just don’t like their treatment style or maybe they cancel too often, you can request a different therapist through E.I.
What if I don’t agree with their recommendations for amount/type of therapies?
You are still the parent and you make the decisions about your child. After the evaluation(s), you will discuss the results with the team and recommendations will be made, but if you feel that any or all therapies are not appropriate, you can decline them (and no, they will not think you are a bad parent!). You can also decline a service and change your mind later. You are in no way handing control of your child over to someone else. You are getting a expert helpers that have a great deal to offer.
**Please note that I am not an official representative for Early Intervention and I do not speak for them. I am a mom that has had children in Early Intervention and I have worked as an independent contractor for Early Intervention and I speak only about what I have seen and experienced myself.