Rachel Pitzel's Tips for Being Your Child's Development Advocate
As a parent, we wear many hats. Mom or dad, caretaker, role model, teacher, friend, driver, chef, boo-boo kisser and advocate.
Now I know the role of advocate might not be one of the first things you think about when describing parenthood. But it is the truly the most important role you play in your child’s life.
No one else can be the voice for your child’s development needs like you, their parent, because you know them better than anyone else in the world.From birth, you watch them grow, you learn what each of their cries mean, what they need when they whimper or make certain noises from infancy. You watch as they grow, evolve and change.
And while you may not be an expert in child development, parents and guardians have a unique ability to sense what their children need and when something is wrong.We spend so much time as parents worrying about whether our children are progressing normally. Maybe one of your friends has a baby who rolled or walked early, and you wonder, is my child normal? Or is there something wrong?
All parents stress and worry about their children to some degree. Comparing your child to a “normal one” is very common.We are often in such a rush for our kids to hit certain milestones just to make sure that everything is all right. I felt the same way with both of my kids!
But what about when you feel that something truly isn’t right? Say your child is barely speaking at 18 months. Perhaps you think “da da da” sounds like “dada,” and that’s a word, right? But does that count as normal speech development?
This is where you, and you alone, have to be your child’s advocate.
90% of a child’s brain develops in the first five years of their life. So early intervention is key.
Talk To Your Pediatrician
The first step when you are worried that your child may not be developing normal is to speak with your pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children be screened for developmental and behavioral delays at least three times before their third birthday (9 months, 18 months and 24/30 months).
Typically at check-ups, pediatricians have a checklist of questions for you to answer about your child’s development. This can include questions about their language, movement, thinking, behavior, and emotions. According to First 5 LA, as many as one in four young children under age six years old are at risk for a developmental or behavioral delay. Pediatricians are the front line for all questions about your children, and they can do a lot to help ease our anxieties about their development.
If your pediatrician has a concern, or perhaps you don’t have access to a pediatrician, your next step is to call your local Regional Center. Regional Centers provide free early intervention during a child’s first 36 months of life to those who qualify.
To set up an appointment, locate your nearest Regional Center and then call them to make an appointment about your concerns. Your appointment may be in a few weeks depending on their caseload and the season. At this appointment, they will assess your concerns and your child, and then set up a series of appointments –at both the Regional Center and your home – to check things like vision and hearing with specialists to see if your child qualifies for services.
Remember, YOU as the parent or guardian are the only person who can advocate on behalf of your child. It’s crucial for you to press for whatever you think is most necessary and to stay on top of the process. It can be a lot managing these appointments, learning about the process, what these new specialists do and there may be completely new concepts for you, like occupational therapy.
My son Grayson barely spoke until he was 2.5 years old, at which point he one day woke up and decided to speak in full sentences. We had him assessed at 2 years old after speaking with his pediatrician about our concerns. During the screenings, he failed the hearing test, and I of course could barely sleep that night, I was so concerned. Luckily we were able to get into the John Tracy Clinic the very next day after I posted in a Facebook Group asking if anyone knew of a place we could have his hearing checked in more detail.
This hearing test was far more complex and detailed. They determined that he had air bubbles in his ear and referred us to an ENT doctor. She prescribed drops for his ears, and they cleared up in just a few days.
Grayson did not end up qualifying for services, even though he barely spoke. His receptive language (what he could understand) was 135 (average scores for receptive and expressive language are 75 – 125) and his expressive language (how he could communicate) was 94. Generally kids should qualify if their scores are more than 5 points apart. But his expressive score was average while his receptive score was above average. Due to budget cuts at the time, he did not qualify.
I’m sure you’re wondering how he could have a 94 score when he didn’t speak much? Well we taught him sign language, which he used along with pointing, grunting, gesturing and other alternate methods to help us understand what he wanted and needed.
Individualized Education Plan
Once your child turns 3 years old, they can receive services through their local elementary school once they obtain an IEP, or an Individualized Education Plan. To start the IEP process, find your local elementary school and request an IEP in writing with your child’s name, reason for the IEP, your name, phone number and email.
They will call you to schedule an assessment and start the process, which takes about 2 months, but can be completed more quickly.
When Grayson turned 3, he got a speech IEP and has been receiving speech therapy at the school ever since. IEPs can include occupational therapy, help with learning disabilities and other development challenges.
Later when Grayson was having trouble blending sounds when he was 6 years old, he had an academic assessment at his school. They discovered that Grayson has dyslexia, and his IEP was updated to include more services, including one-on-one reading support, his school paid for the reading specialist to receive Orton-Gillingham training, and he receives a few modifications in his class.
For instance, instead of 10 spelling words a week, he has 5.
Grayson can continue to receive developmental assistance throughout his education, with a yearly re-assessment when his IEP is updated. The best part of the IEP process is that parents and guardians play a critical role in creating the best plan for their child.
Anytime your child faces an obstacle, especially a developmental one, it can be an incredibly anxiety-ridden time for parents. I understand this intimately as I have experienced this several times with my kids. However, as a parent, your most important role is to advocate for your child to receive the support they need to grow and develop to the best of their abilities. It’s not a time when you can allow fear, uncertainty or worry to prevent you from taking action.
Ignoring a possible problem or delaying help can lead to less than ideal outcomes. Early intervention is key. And you, as your child’s advocate, are the main ingredient to obtaining this key.
Rachel Pitzel is an entrepreneur, content creator, reformed attorney, and social media influencer who is best known for her brand, xo Rachel Pitzel. Rachel resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two children, Grayson and Harper.
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