Early Intervention Crucial with Special Needs Kids


When my son was 10 months old, I noticed he was not babbling and cooing like my daughter had done at that age. His pediatrician encouraged me to wait a few months to see if he would catch up, but as his mother I knew that something was not right.

After weeks of worrying, I called the North Carolina Early Intervention (EI) program. His evaluation revealed a significant speech delay, and as a result he was enrolled in the infant-toddler speech program. He was eventually diagnosed with apraxia, a speech disorder, and we've since been told he would not have caught up without the early speech therapy he received.

Don't ignore red flags

While no parents want to hear that their child may be facing an obstacle to typical development, experts agree that the earlier a delay or other condition is diagnosed and treatment begins, the better the outcome is likely to be. Catching a problem in the infant or toddler years provides therapy teams with crucial extra time to work with the child and his family.

"We really believe in looking at any sign of developmental delay as early as possible because we know that children's brain development in the first three years is so important," says Deborah Carroll, Ph.D., the branch head for Early Intervention in the State Division of Public Health.

When assessing your child's development, Carroll recommends noting if she seems to be able to hear, if her speech is on target for her age, and how she interacts with her family and caregivers. You can compare your child's progress to a developmental milestones chart, such as the one on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Act Early" website, www.cdc.gov/actearly.

Getting help
If you are still concerned about your child's development, talk first to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician may refer your child to the state's EI program, which provides testing and services for children birth to age 3 who have developmental delays or a diagnosed condition, such as hearing loss or Down syndrome, which may affect development.

You may request a free evaluation even without your pediatrician's referral. "Parents know their children best," Carroll says.

She encourages parents to locate the Children's Developmental Service Agency (CDSA) for their county by calling 919-707-5520 or visiting www.ncei.org. Caregivers, including grandparents and teachers, may also request an evaluation. Testing looks for developmental delays in five areas: cognitive, physical, communication, socio-emotional and adaptive. "We get a whole picture of the child and see if there is a developmental delay," Carroll says.

The evaluation and service coordination is provided at no cost to the families. Any recommended therapies are billed to the family on a sliding scale based on income. Carroll says that most families in the program do not pay out of pocket for services.

What to expect from early intervention
If your child is enrolled in the EI program, you will be assigned a service coordinator to develop a plan for interventions and to help you navigate the system. Common therapies for infants and toddlers with delays include developmental, speech, occupational and physical therapies. Many of the therapies involve promoting development in daily routines.

"Therapists help parents recognize what learning opportunities exist in their child's everyday life so they can help their child engage in skills that are important to their development," says Sam Odom, Ph.D., the director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Private and community resources
Other options exist as well. Claudia Tyer of Raleigh encourages parents to explore private therapy if they feel their child's needs are not being met adequately through state programs. Tyer pursued private therapy for her son Christopher, now 8. "If you fear your child is not developing like he should, do not wait," she says. "Don't make that mistake, because early diagnosis and intervention is crucial.

What is a developmental delay?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving 'bye bye' are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in playing, learning, speaking, behaving and moving (crawling, walking, etc.) A developmental delay is when your child does not reach these milestones at the same time as other children the same age."

If you have concerns about your child's development, talk to your pediatrician or local Children's Developmental Service Agency about setting up an evaluation. Most of the time, a developmental problem is not something your child will "grow out of" on his own.

To learn more about developmental milestones and delays, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/actearly or the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services at www.ncei.org.

?Jennifer Gregory lives in the Triangle with her husband, two kids and three dogs.?

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