Episode 217: January 28, 2013
by Cheryl Butler
After 6 years of grueling infertility treatments and finally adopting our beautiful daughter, there was no bigger relief in the world than to hear the doctor say that my biological son arrived into the world perfectly healthy. I spent the next 2 years reveling in every coo he made and every sacred milestone, such as his first gummy smile, rolling over, sitting up independently, cutting his first two teeth, taking his first wobbly steps—it was all so wonderful.
Those milestones all came easily and right on target, so I couldn’t wait to start hearing him utter the words “Mama” and “Dada.” My daughter started using words when she was 15 months old, so when my son turned 2 and still hadn’t attempted even one recognizable word, I became cautiously concerned. By age 2 ½, still no words, and it was then that my mother’s intuition told me something wasn’t quite right.
Sponsor: With lynda.com, you can learn software, business, and creative skills to achieve personal and professional goals. Try lynda.com free for 7 days by visiting lynda.com/mommy
This episode is the beginning of a 4-part series on raising special needs and developmentally delayed children. Because I have personally experienced developmental delays with 3 of my 8 children, I have firsthand knowledge of how scary and uncertain this experience can be. That’s why today, I have 5 tips to share with you on steps you can take if you are concerned that your child might not be meeting developmental milestones.
Step # 1: Is Your Baby Developing on Target?
As a parent, you naturally monitor your baby's physical growth and development. You keep track of the age at which your baby rolls over, sits up on his own, holds a bottle or cup on his own, and takes first steps. When you take your baby in for regular check-ups, especially for the first few years of life, the doctor will always ask pointed questions to see if your baby is reaching developmental milestones. These kinds of checks are usually done at 9, 18, 24, and 30 months of age. But they can be done at anytime if you have any concerns about your child's development.
The term "developmental milestones" is used by doctors to talk about all types of skills that children should reach within certain age ranges. These milestones cover children's growth in the areas of:
Physical skills (such as sitting up, walking, holding an object)
Language and communication skills (understanding what is said, pointing at objects he wants, learning and using words)
Self-help skills (able to feed self, dress self, use the toilet)
Social skills (making eye contact, playing with others, wanting to be around others)
A developmental disability is a chronic problem resulting from mental and/or physical impairments. People with developmental disabilities may find it difficult to perform major life activities such as moving, learning, communicating with language, taking care of themselves and living independently. The disabilities begin between birth and last throughout a person's life. Examples include autism spectrum disorders, brain injuries, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities caused by Down Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, or any other significant cognitive impairment.
Step #2: You Know Your Child Better Than Anyone
Remember: You know your child better than anyone. As you interact with your child, you get to know your child's personality better than any doctor ever could. Some children do not like a lot of noise or chatter and some children like certain types of foods more than others. All children are different, just as all adults are different. As you get to know your baby, if there's an issue, you may sense when something is not quite "right."
Children develop at different rates, but there are general guidelines or age markers for typical milestones. If you feel that your child isn't developing typically, seems a bit behind other children his age, or hasn't reached any milestones within the typical age ranges, talk to your child's doctor.
Before speaking with your doctor, keep a log of your observations and your concerns. Keep a written list or a chart noting things such as:
What your concern is at every age (language, walking, eating, etc.)
Specific times you are noticing your concern (to see if there is a pattern or connection with times of day, certain places, etc.)
Behaviors or concerns when around other people (note if your concerns only occur in certain situations, around other people or social settings)
Social behaviors such as interacting with you or caregivers, making eye contact, unexplained anger or resistance to certain textures, sounds, foods, or getting overwhelmed (such as in a crowded store), or loud atmosphere (such as a place with lots of kids shrieking and playing).
Is there consistency to your concern or does the situation only happen randomly? (For example, does your child only try to talk when frustrated, and otherwise seems content being non-verbal?)
Step #3: What Should I do if I Suspect a Developmental Delay?
If you notice that your child does not seem to be progressing at what is considered a normal level of development, you should first consult your pediatrician and then perhaps a developmental pediatrician. There is a normal range of development and some children begin slowly but then catch up. But if your child is not progressing "normally" it helps to intervene as fully and as early as possible (keeping in mind that the norms established by the medical community are based on averages and do not include outliers).
Go with your gut instinct. Don’t accept others dismissing your concerns by saying “You worry too much,” or “That will go away in a few months.” You know your child and are his or her best advocate. If your child seems to be losing ground—in other words, starts to lose skills that he could do in the past—you should seek professional input for your concerns right away.
As a word of caution from my personal experience: Try with all your might to go into these developmental evaluations with an open mind. Be prepared to hear a lot of strange and scary terms that you may not be familiar with. Do not borrow worry and fall apart until you’ve had some time to digest any professional feedback (easier said than done, I know!). Nowadays, young children and their families have amazing opportunities and resources available to them that can help them overcome many types of delays. The children that have the best possible advantage are those who have strong, supportive family units!
Often, a diagnosis of a developmental delay is preliminary, until specialists can make a definitive diagnosis. It may take more time for your child's disorder (if there is one) to fully manifest itself. When we realized our son was not hitting milestone markers, our pediatrician guided us to a team of specialists which tested him in many different cognitive and social areas. This was a very difficult process for us, but it opened the door to seek the proper avenue of services to help him.
Step #4: Getting the Help You Need
When you speak with your doctor, bring your written records. If you are prepared ahead of time, you will be sure not to leave out something important and to make sure all your concerns are heard. Bring copies for your child's doctor to keep.
After talking, 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 actually experiencing a delay. The screening is a 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 evaluation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics website has a section called "Parenting Corner" with all kinds of information on children's health topics and specific pages on Early Identification/Developmental Screening that provide information for parents and child care providers.
Step #5: What if Your Child is Diagnosed?
If your child is diagnosed with a developmental delay or disability, remember that this is just where he or she is at this particular time. It is just a starting point for getting your child the proper services to help him either overcome the delay or progress to the fullest of his ability. Support is available in many ways, and in next week’s episode Mighty Mommy is going to focus on coping with a diagnosis and moving forward so that your child can make the best possible progress!
And by the way, I’m proud to say that my first son (now 18) is a perfectly smart, well-adjusted teenager, who has overcome all of his speech delays. This year he will graduate from high school and go on to attend college in the fall. Not only has he not stopped talking since he began making steady and amazing progress between the ages of 3 and 5, but he is also socially outgoing and an incredible athlete, with scholarship potential for pitching in baseball!
Are you concerned with your child’s development? Please share your story on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Check back next week for part two of this series which will focus on coping and moving forward if your child receives a diagnosis. Don’t forget to check out my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.
Remember, you know your child better than anyone! Until next time…happy parenting!