The theme of this article will be to tell parents not to do the thing that comes most naturally – worrying! First time parents can be the most worried because they have no experience with the new things that pop up every day. If you find that your child may not be developing in the ways that are expected, then there is lots of help in every community and it is FREE! Free help with your kids? No, this is not an internet scam. It is an entitlement in every state. And the services take place in your own home! More info on that later.
All kids develop at a different pace but there are some developmental milestones that you can expect your child to hit at certain ages. There are four categories that make up these milestones – social/emotional; language/communication; cognitive; and physical. It is great to watch for the subjects in each of these areas and help your little one get where they need to be, but if they are not making the progress that you were expecting – don’t stress out!
If you have a child that was born premature then you can automatically expect there may be some delays in what they can do because they were born before they were supposed to leave the oven. This is perfectly normal for preemies and parents should alter their expectations. Do not worry! A quick talk with your pediatrician will let you know the differences in development for a premature baby as opposed to a full term child. Ask every question you can think of – that is what your child’s doctor is there for!
Preemies aside, let’s start with talking about really young babies who were born full term. When a child is around 2 months old, you could expect them to be smiling, trying to turn their head when they hear noises, and making some sounds. Let me say this again – we are talking about a 2 MONTH old baby. You cannot tell much in a child who is that young. You certainly do not need to panic if you don’t see all of these things immediately in a 2 month old. You can run through the list of milestones for that age but take it with a grain of salt. When your child is a bit older it will be easier to recognize if they are or are not doing those things that are expected for their age.
Moving on to some examples of things you would see in a 6-month old baby is a little more telling. This is the age where you would typically see your child recognizing familiar people, responding to sounds by making sounds, looking around at things nearby and bringing things to their mouth. Again, keep in mind that 6 months is still very young and so it can be difficult to tell if a child is doing everything that the milestones indicate. You can do some little tests to see how your child responds like offering them a toy and seeing if they grasp it and put it in their mouth. You can also call your child’s name and make other fun or silly sounds to see if they respond.
When a child has reached the age of one year, they should be displaying some things you may not love – like crying when you leave, being shy around strangers and throwing or banging things. Believe it or not, these are milestones that they should be displaying at this age. This is also the age where they may be trying to pull themselves up to stand by holding on to furniture, waving and playing games like peek-a-boo. There will always be those moms who tell you that their baby walked at the age of one and was sleeping through the night and reciting the alphabet. I have a secret for you – that is an exaggeration. There may be some kids who develop a bit quicker than others but there are no baby Clark Kents out there lifting cars and putting on their own super suit.
Okay, now let’s talk about what to do if you do not see your child developing in the ways they should. The very first thing you need to know is that there are millions of other children with developmental delays in the world and it does not mean there will be a lifetime of issues. Some children are delayed and after interventions they catch right up to where they should typically be and you would have never known the difference.
If your child is displaying some delays, it is not your fault and nothing that you should beat yourself up over. Your child not rolling over promptly at the age of 3 months does not mean you stood too close to the microwave while you were pregnant. Delays can happen with any child for a multitude of reasons and it is not something you have control over. What you can control is the way you react to these delays and the type of help you get for your child.
Every single state is mandated by Federal Law to have Early Intervention Service. These services are available to children from the ages of birth to three and are provided in the family home. It is as simple as making a phone call to the Early Intervention agency in your area. They will ask you some questions over the phone and then probably set up a time to come and evaluate your child. The evaluation is not a medical examination. It is a simple observation of your child to see what they can do for their age. This is not invasive or hard on your child so you can relax. They will probably visit your home with a bag of toys typical for the age of your child and they will play with them to get a baseline of what they can do. You are present the entire time so the specialist can ask you questions. If it is determined that your child would benefit from early intervention, then they will set up a schedule of visits for you. You are also encouraged to ask questions because parents will always be the number one caregiver and teacher for their child.
Not only will a specialist come to your home and work with your child in a play type setting but your child will be assessed for any additional services they may need too. This can include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, vision services, nutrition, hearing services or anything else that might benefit their development. The frequency of visits will be decided on by the professionals along with your family input and a plan will be put in place to determine the goals you are hoping to have your child meet. The plan will be reviewed throughout services and updated as needed or requested by you. The goals are literally written by the parents – you decide what you would like to see your child accomplish.
The entire early intervention process is dictated by the family. You write the plan, you can change staff and therapists if you feel the need. You can even choose which agency sends the staff out to your home because most states have multiple providers. You can do some research on each of the providers and determine which one you would prefer. You are in the driver’s seat, which is usually where moms want to be!
All of this may sound like a process but it is actually quite easy and family friendly. It is also very educational, with the staff teaching parents strategies that they can continue to use at any time. They also look for ways for the family to do activities that work with what they already have in their home. No need to buy expensive toys or equipment. One example is teaching two to three-year-old children how to recognize and match colors. You could buy an expensive pediatric toy from the internet but that is completely unnecessary. You can teach matching colors with a simple load of laundry! Take your toddler’s socks and lay the pairs out, mixing them up. Pick up a red sock and ask your child to find the match. Repeat this with all of the colors. Now you have an easy learning game that does not require you to spend any extra money.
The most important thing to remember as you watch your child progress in their developmental milestones is that regardless of where they are on the charts, it is o.k. Everyone in the whole world has some kind of “special need”. Some people need to wear glasses to see, some people need to turn the television up really loud to hear it, some people are very forgetful and need to write themselves notes. A special need is not a bad thing; it just means a person needs a little extra help to accomplish something. The very same thing applies to your child.
It is not the end of the world if your baby is not saying dada or mama at 9 months to the day. It might feel like it because you are dying to hear those words, but if you can be patient, speak to your doctor and call for an early intervention evaluation, you can get lots of help.
And, as mentioned at the beginning of this article – these services are free! It does not matter if you only take advantage of the developmental staff coming to your home once a week or if your child needs the extra help of occupational, speech and physical therapy too. There is no cost to the family for all of these services. It is proven that the cost of early intervention is significantly less than interventions in school later on so States pay for these services to save on future costs. If your child receives all of the services they need between the ages of birth and three, there will be much less chance that they will need costly services through the school district when they start school.
Keep these things in mind as you navigate your young child’s progress in the areas of social, cognitive, physical and communication development:
- Don’t worry!
- No matter where your child falls on the spectrum of development, there is help;
- Do some research. You will find that a child needing some interventions is perfectly normal and not a terrible curse;
- Ask for help. It’s free and it is in the best interest of your child so just ask.
- Share your stories. The same way that you don’t want to feel like you are alone in this whirlwind we call motherhood – no one else does either. If you can talk with your spouse or other parents about what you are going through and hear their stories too then it will inevitably make you feel better. You would be surprised how many kids receive some services to aid in their development. You are not alone and someone else may benefit greatly from your words too.
- Finally, early intervention works! Reaching children at the youngest age possible and providing them with services while their brain is still developing has been proven to work wonders. Children have been able to get to the correct developmental stage for their age through these services. They have also had greater success in school after receiving early intervention. This is proven research which you can explore for yourself through the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC).