As a mom of two kids under the age of 4, the last few years of my life have revolved around witnessing an endless flood of firsts. First smiles, first steps, first words. As a first-time mom, I was admittedly preoccupied with milestones and the inevitable comparisons. Was she sitting up on her own yet? Crawling and walking at the same time as others her age? How many words should she be saying? Like most new moms, I also had no frame of reference of what to expect at different ages. I was continuously relieved that on paper things seemed to be moving along “normally” and there were no concerns from her pediatrician.
So when I was first approached by a preschool teacher about a possible developmental delay with my daughter, I was caught a bit off guard. Like any parent hearing concerns about their child, it is difficult not to immediately fly into defense or denial mode.
Once those initial sensitive feelings wore off, I pursued next steps with the special education program, eagerly accepting all the advice and resources provided to me. After a few months of assessments, we found out my daughter was struggling with sensory-related issues, and occupational therapy was recommended. After just a few months of help from the school, we started seeing significant progress and couldn’t be happier with the extra attention she has received. This experience taught me to seek help early if I notice any signs of concern. A few months later, I noticed my youngest wasn’t talking all that much. At 18 months, I contacted a local Early Intervention program. She qualified for speech services and has been successfully growing her vocabulary ever since.
While I am no expert and brand new to navigating these programs, there are a few things I have learned about why it’s so important for parents to embrace these resources:
A fellow mom recently told me she thinks if every child were tested, most would qualify for something. If you have concerns, there is nothing to lose in requesting an assessment. Individual attention from a qualified expert will not only ease your mind but will help your child before they transition into a larger classroom setting.
If your child qualifies for extra assistance in a given area, Early Intervention/special education services are free and covered by insurance. You also do not need to be referred by your child’s pediatrician — you can self-refer like I did. Not only does our program offer in-home speech therapy, but my daughter can also attend free playgroups. There is even a drop-off option at our center, which helps kids practice independent play (and provides an affordable option for parents to get a much-needed break).
You learn just as much as they do
One of my friends recently joked that her Early Intervention coordinator was like her “parenting therapist.” There is some truth in that — you have access to a neutral resource to talk with about your child’s struggles, and you can brainstorm together ideas to help. I have learned many new techniques and activities I would never have thought of on my own, and I’ve met other moms with similar challenges through the playgroups.
It’s fun (really!)
The best part of the services for both my kids is that they really do have fun. They have absolutely no idea they are actually doing “work” on speech or motor skills. They jump, sing, dance, do crafts, and play pretend. I love to see my daughter’s fun and social personality come alive in her playgroups and see her making new friends.
Through these experiences, I have slowly learned to put away my parenting pride and embrace the advice of the experts. It sounds simple and obvious, but I’ve also learned the valuable lesson that just like adults, every child is different. Some will walk early and some will talk early. Some will potty train easily and with others it will be painstakingly difficult. At the end of the day, we are all walking along our own unique path with our children. And there is absolutely no shame in asking for extra help along the way.
To inquire about special education programs in the Boston area, visit the Massachusetts Family Ties website, which provides contact information for Early Intervention.