If you’re reading this, you might already be concerned about your child’s development. The good news is that there are many things you can do right now to help your son or daughter.
First, know that there’s help available to find out just what the difficulties are, if any, and address those difficulties. The good news is that this help is usually free, and it’s available in every state.
The developing child
Think of all the skills that children have to learn when they come into the world: smiling, turning over, responding to people, communicating, eating solid food, crawling, standing, and on and on. We expect these skills to emerge naturally over time and know more or less when they should. At 3 months, Susana will probably be doing this, at 4 months, she’ll be doing that. By a year, well, she’ll be tottering around, getting into everything.
The time-table for skills to emerge is commonly called the developmental milestones. What’s considered normal development is described rather broadly. That’s because we know that children don’t learn skills at the same pace. Two different children born on the same day may learn the same skill months apart, and both can be considered “on schedule.” It’s when skills don’t emerge as expected, more or less on that broad schedule, that parents and caregivers may become concerned.
What to do? First, you may want to talk with your pediatrician about your child’s development.
Don’t be surprised if the pediatrician tells you not to worry, to be patient, to give your child more time to develop. Often, that’s what parents hear, especially in the early stages of investigating their child’s seeming delays. And it’s often true. Children develop at different rates; the pediatrician is well aware that many children show sudden bursts in development rather than slow, steady growth.
On the other hand, your pediatrician may recommend that a developmental screening be conducted. Its purpose is to see if, yes, your child is experiencing a developmental delay. The screening is a quick, general measure of your child’s skills and development. It’s not detailed enough to make a diagnosis, but its results show whether or not a child should be referred for a more in-depth developmental evaluation.
The developmental evaluation should be conducted by a highly-trained professional who can use the results to create a profile of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation needs to look at five developmental areas. Those areas are:
Physical development (fine motor skills, gross motor skills)
Cognitive development (intellectual abilities)
Communication development (speech and language)
Social or emotional development (social skills, emotional control)
Adaptive development (self-care skills)
The results of the developmental evaluation will be used to decide if your child needs early intervention services and/or a treatment plan. Early intervention services are tailored to meet a child’s individual needs and, as such, are a very important resource to children experiencing developmental delays. Early intervention services can include:
IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Through IDEA, early intervention services and special education services are made available to our nation’s children. Not surprisingly, IDEA includes a definition of developmental delay, which may be useful to know. Here it is:
Child with a disability for children aged three through nine (or any subset of that age range, including ages three through five), may… include a child—
(1) Who is experiencing developmental delays as defined by the State and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in one or more of the following areas: Physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development; and
(2) Who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services. [34 CFR §300.8(b)]
It’s a good idea to find out if your state has added details to this definition of developmental delay. States are allowed to do so, if they choose. They also decide on the age range of children with whom the term may be used (3-5, 3-9, or any subset between 3-9). Your local school or early intervention program should be able to tell you the definition of developmental delay that’s used in your area.