Why Early Intervention Is Critical
When and Why to Have Your Child Evaluated
Every child is different, so first steps, words and playmate interactions will come at each child’s own pace. However, a pronounced lag — or even a parent’s, caregiver’s or teacher’s gut feeling that a milestone is delayed — might mean the child needs extra support.
Colleen Sherman, pediatric psychologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE, urges parents to have their child tested if they suspect a delay. “It doesn’t cost anything for a referral or a developmental evaluation,” she says. If testing shows the child is on target, it will put the parent’s mind at ease. “But if it is something, research tells us that the benefits of early intervention are incomparable. So why wait?” asks Sherman.
Early warning signs
Benchmarks for developmental skills offer parents a helpful guide. “We encourage families to look at all five areas of development for a child: cognitive skills, speech and language skills, social and emotional development, motor skills and self-help or adaptive skills,” says Lisa Stash, supervisor of preschool special education services at the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU).
If parents have any doubts, they should contact their pediatrician first. If the doctor shares their concerns, the child should be evaluated by a local child development agency like CCIU. Evaluations are play-based, and the children don’t know they are being assessed. Often, children can be evaluated in their own preschool or daycare, with input from parents and teachers.
“We will assign the family a service coordinator who will manage the process,” Stash says. “Families are very involved.”
See page 2 for types of support
Types of support
Parental involvement was important to Kelly Dawkins from Phoenixville, PA, whose children Adelaide, 9, and Gabriel, 5, received services from CCIU at very young ages and now are reaping the benefits. Born extremely prematurely — at 25 weeks — Adelaide weighed just 1 lb. 14 oz. at birth. With the help of physical, occupational and speech therapy that started very soon after her birth, the third grader “is doing extremely well, with few to no health issues, and she’s graduated through all of those services,” says Dawkins.
When Gabriel was about a year old, Dawkins thought he was lagging behind in strength. “I thought he should have been able to eat a little better and start communicating, and although he could walk, his gait wasn’t where it should be,” she recalls.
She had her son evaluated at CCIU, and at first he only qualified for speech therapy. Over the next few months, as his delays continued, further evaluations showed he also needed services for physical and occupational therapy.
“Although I wasn’t ever concerned with either of my kids for their long-term outcome, I felt it’s my job as a parent to give them all the tools I can possibly provide to allow them to grow and blossom,” says Dawkins. “Early intervention was the tool that would enhance their lives. It was about laying a sturdy foundation for my kids to be able to build their cognitive, physical and social development and to allow them to have more success and less frustration.”
Value of early intervention
Though some families might think there’s a stigma associated with extra support or may feel that their child will outgrow the problem on her own, it’s vital to get help as soon as possible. If parents wait until a child who may have delays reaches kindergarten, the child will miss out on valuable time to get support during a stage when her brain is most receptive to help.
“The greater the plasticity of baby’s brains, which occurs in the zero to five range, the greater the opportunity for change,” says Sherman.
“Early intervention may prevent or at least reduce the need for special educational services in the future,” says Stash. “Some children, because they’ve had these extra services, may not need special education when they get to school age.”
Terri Akman is a local freelance writer.