Parenthood in and of it self is challenging but when you have a child with developmental delays, it’s even more challenging. The world looks at you and your child with a different set of eyes because they can’t figure out why your child isn’t doing what other children his or her age are doing. This can be extremely frustrating and you find yourself constantly defending your child and explaining why your child does what he or she does or does not do. I say this because this has been my life for the past seven years.
My son at birth was diagnosed with a hearing loss in one ear. As a result of his hearing loss, the State of New York ordered a series of evaluations and found that he hadn’t hit any of his developmental milestones and he had low muscle tone. At this point, he couldn’t support himself whether on his belly or in a sitting position and couldn’t roll over. Also, his speech and language were delayed as well. As a result of these evaluations, my son was diagnosed with global developmental delay at age 1, meaning that he was delayed in all aspects of his development.
My son’s diagnosis was hard for me and my family to digest. I immediately began to feel guilty and wondered if I genetically passed this on to my son or if I did something wrong during my pregnancy. But as time went on and I began to understand my son’s issues, I decided that I wasn’t going to let my son’s delays stop me from giving him the life he deserved. I was determined to do everything in my power to make sure he got the help that he needed. I took full advantage of all the services that were before me and fought to have him placed in a fully-inclusive private school (where typically developing students and special needs students learn in the same classroom) where he receives therapy. I worked with him at home and have established a relationship with all of his therapists, teachers and doctors. Because of my determination, my son is functioning close to his peers and is no longer considered developmentally delayed. He still requires therapy today but he is a fully functional independent little boy that has captured the heart of everyone.
Helpful Tips in Raising a Child with Developmental Delays
Early Diagnosis – Early diagnosis is key. This enables you to begin the process of getting help for your child. If your child is under the age of 3, most states have an Early Intervention Program that provides therapeutic services – Speech, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Sensory Integration – and is free of charge. Some pediatricians believe that you should wait until the child is 3 to diagnosis any developmental delay. If you feel that there is something really wrong, push for an evaluation. A Developmental Pediatrician can tell you exactly where your child is developmentally.
Educate Yourself – The first part of educating yourself is accepting that your child has a delay(s). Once you accept the diagnosis, you put yourself in a frame of mind to absorb the information that is out there. Take the time to search the Internet, read books, ask questions of the therapist about what developmental delay is and is not. The more educated you the more you can educate others.
Know Your Options – There are laws and mandates in place to assist families with children that have special needs. Early Intervention assists children under the age of 3. Public Schools are mandated to provide therapeutic services for children ages 3-21. There are many agencies that provide additional services to help with the development of your child. Knowing what is available you to opens many doors and gives you options in caring and treating your child. And knowing your options gives you leverage when you need to fight for services that you are entitled to.
Get Involved – Never let your child’s learning end when he or she leaves the therapist or school. Pay close attention to what the therapist and teachers are saying and doing and carry it over to your home. Children with developmental delays learn through play and interaction. By knowing what to – what games to play, how to interact, how to engage communication -you will greatly benefit your child. Ask questions and always ask what you can do at home to assist in your child’s development.
Be Your Child’s Best Advocate – By educating yourself and knowing your options, YOU can be your child’s best advocate. When it comes to childcare placement and school placement, it is ultimately up to you to get the best care for your child. Not all childcare facilities or schools are designed to deal with children with special needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and never take NO for an answer. Be prepared to fight for your child to get him or her the best education and services that you can provide for them.
Be Patient – This is one of the most important pieces of advice that I can give. Progress doesn’t happen over night. You must understand where your child is developmentally and react to your child at the appropriate level. If you have a child that is 4 and you’re pushing the child to be potty trained, your child may not be ready to potty train. (I ran into this… my son was 4 but developmentally he was 2 ½). Use a different approach to achieve your child’s goals. It may take your child longer to obtain certain skills than that of other children their age. Enjoy the learning process.
Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement gives your child a sense of accomplishment and builds self -esteem. No matter how small the achievement may be, always let your child know that they have done a great job and that you are proud of them.
Network – Never feel that you have to go through this alone. Find other parents that share the same concerns. Who knows, you might find out something you didn’t know.
Raising a child is never easy, let alone one with special needs. As a parent of a child that experienced developmental delays, I have a new appreciation of what it means to be a parent. I don’t take anything for granted and I am delighted when my son learns something new or has achieved something, no matter how small it may be. I know that I have done my job when my son looks at me and says “Mommy I did it!” and to see his face light up when I say “Proud of You!” is absolutely priceless.
From one parent to another… if I can do it, so can you. Good luck!