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Early Intervention: Part I

September 3, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Early Intervention: Part I | A young boy reaches for help in standing up as he crawls on the ground.

At our son’s fifteen-month check-up, the pediatrician asked my husband and me a series of questions about our son’s development: Is he walking? Check. Can he stack two blocks? Check. Does he respond when you call his name? Check. Does he have a vocabulary of at least several words, including “mama” and “dada?” Umm . . . no. Our son babbled incessantly, but my husband and I realized that we couldn’t really recognize anything he said as actual words.

While there is a wide range of what is considered “normal” in terms of speech development, our pediatrician suggested that we have our son evaluated to see if he’d qualify for speech therapy through our state’s early intervention program. Since many private insurance plans do not cover habilitative therapy, or therapy that helps a person learn skills that are not developing normally, the early intervention program can help families get affordable services.

What Is Early Intervention?
Early intervention (EI) is a system of services that helps infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or disabilities. Developmental delays include the following areas:

  • cognitive development (thinking)
  • physical development (crawling, walking)
  • communication development (talking, listening)
  • social or emotional development (playing, feeling secure)
  • adaptive development (eating, dressing)

Services are provided to a qualifying child to match his or her developmental need. These might include speech therapy, physical therapy, hearing services, or nutrition services.

Every U.S. state and territory is required by law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to have an early intervention program, though the specific rules and regulations can vary from state to state.

How Does My Child Qualify?
If you suspect your child has a developmental delay, either talk with your pediatrician to get a referral or locate your state’s early intervention website to find an EI office in your area. Once you’ve located your local office, you can call to request a free evaluation for your child.

While the qualification process may vary slightly from state to state, our experience with the Illinois Early Intervention Program is probably typical for most state programs: After playing a bit of phone tag with my local EI office, my husband and I were assigned a service coordinator who guided us through the evaluation process. She first met with us for an intake visit at our home to fill out a bunch of paperwork and to find out more about our son’s medical and developmental history. Then she put us in contact with a speech therapist and an occupational therapist who came to our home two weeks later for our son’s official evaluation. The two therapists asked us a series of questions and observed our son as he performed different tasks related to the different areas of development (outlined in the bulleted list above).

In the state of Illinois, a child with a delay of 30 percent or more in any developmental area qualifies for EI services. (Qualification criteria vary from state to state. For more information on your state, visit this National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center website.) Our son showed a 33 percent delay in expressive speech, so my husband and I have opted to enroll him in a speech therapy program.

Next month I will write more about our experiences with the EI program as our son begins his weekly speech therapy sessions.



Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.

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My Story: Learning to Express Love To Your Children

August 25, 2014

By Beth Wilson

My Story: Learning to Express Love To Your Children | A mother holds her smiling daughter and looks lovingly into her eyes.

“I love you” was not a phrase my mother used. She felt that too often those words were meaningless and that we—my sister, my brother, and I—should know that she loved us by the things that she did for us. Physical affection, such as a hug, a touch of the hand, or an arm around the shoulder, was also out of the question—touching was not her thing. Growing up I felt more tolerated than loved.

Several months after the birth of my first child, I glanced at her and was overwhelmed both with love for her and sorrow for me. Tears came to my eyes as I wondered, “Didn't anybody love me like this when I was a baby?” Unfortunately no one came to mind. In that moment I resolved that one of my goals as a mother would be to insure my children knew their mother loved them.

Many years later, my husband and I were working on our marriage and discovered Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages. We learned that when you want to communicate your love to someone, use the language that speaks love to him or her the loudest, which might not be the language that speaks loudly to you. My mother’s statement about knowing that she loved me by the things that she did for me tells me that she feels loved when someone does something for her.

My husband and I studied our children closely to see if we could determine which one of the five languages of love really spoke to them. We used the following types of showing love as our assessment tools:

  • physical touch
  • words of affirmation
  • quality time
  • gifts
  • acts of service

Then we looked for appropriate ways to express our deep love and affection for them. 15 years later I am confident that my children know I love them. How do I know? Periodically I ask them.

Within a couple of years of reading the book I had the opportunity to describe to my mother, in a non-threatening way, the premise of the book, what I thought her love language was, and that for me to feel loved I need to hear, “I love you.” Today I am confident my mother loves me. How do I know? Because since that conversation, every so often, she will say, “I love you.”

Do your children know that you love them? Tell me in the comments below how you show your children you love them.

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How to Address the Fear of Becoming a Father

June 24, 2014

By Mario Vela

The author holds his newborn daughter in the hospital.

I’m 32 years old, and for the last seven years I’ve been terrified of the thought of being a father. I am an analytical person, and can lose myself in thinking of worst-case scenarios. But now I am finally comfortable and excited that my wife of ten years is expecting just had our first child.

Why have I been concerned all these years? I questioned my ability to raise a child since I never had a traditional father figure. My mother left my father when I was an infant and married someone with whom I always had a contentious relationship.

In my journey to becoming an expectant father, I’ve used my analytical nature to my advantage. I have thought about why I was afraid to have children, have worked through my fears, and have developed some ideas to help transition from my role as a husband to my new role as a husband and father. I want to share these tips with expectant and new fathers to help them, too.

  • Create a list of parental figures. Think about your role models. What good qualities do they have? Try to embody those qualities and pass them along to your child. Do not limit yourself in gender- or culture-based learning, as it is possible to learn more from diverse perspectives. Since I had an open mind in learning from others, I was able to leave some of the limiting social constructs of my own upbringing behind.
  • Learn from others. Have dinner with your friends with kids and learn from their experiences. Spend time with them and listen to their triumphs with their children and also of the challenges they encounter. Ask yourself if this is the life you want to pursue.
  • Create a support system. My wife and I recently moved to a different city, so creating a support system has been a little more difficult than usual, but we have developed relationships with friends whom I value and trust. Those people have helped me overcome my fears and will help us when our baby arrives. It’s important to know we’re not alone.
  • Spend time with other people’s children. Visit with your friends’ and family’s children and interact with them. Rather than just hearing stories from others, this will allow you to learn from experience and see the patience and care required to raise your own children.
  • Be honest and set realistic expectations with your partner. When my wife let me know that not having children was non-negotiable to stay married, I came to the realization that my children are a source of my legacy. I finally realized that I have something to offer.

Through this decision-making process, I learned from some of my closest friends and relatives. In the end, I made a personal and, for me, a very difficult decision: I know that I can offer a strong future to my children. I kept questioning my abilities as a father, and eventually learned that I have every right to be a father, and that I will be a good one.

*Editor's note: Mario and his wife Ana welcomed their baby girl less than two weeks before we published this article. Congratulations to Mario and Ana!

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My Story: Being an Au Pair

June 2, 2014

By Lorena Villa Parkman

Two women push kids in strollers and talk in the park.

Photo credit: Tumar/Shutterstock.com

I was 21 years old when I decided I needed an adventure. I was mid-way through my bachelor’s degree and graduation seemed closer and closer each day. I was confident I would have a job before finishing college, but I worried that with the responsibilities that come with having a full-time job it would be a while before I could have a long-term adventure in another country. I didn’t want to enroll in an exchange program since I knew my parents didn’t have enough money to support me in a foreign country, so I started looking for jobs. That’s when I learned about au pairs.

An au pair is a young woman (or man) between the ages of 18 and 26, with limited childcare experience who is willing to stay with a family in a foreign country for a cultural exchange and to take care of their children as nannies do.

The differences between an au pair and a nanny are that the latter makes a career out of childcare work, might be older, and doesn’t seek a cultural exchange. Au pairs become part of the host family. They live and vacation with together and receive lodging, meals, and a monthly salary from the host family. Besides taking care of the children, they perform some household chores and overall can be considered older siblings to your kids.

I ended up being an au pair for eight months in Istanbul, Turkey. It was a marvelous experience for both my host family and me. I will never forget Oktay and Sibel, the two kids who became my little brother and sister, and my experiences there.

With that experience in mind, if you plan to hire an au pair or nanny, here are some things that you might want to consider:

  • The candidate must have basic first aid knowledge.
  • He or she must have experience taking care of children. Since an au pair will be living with you and will be immersed in your family routine, he or she might have less formal experience taking care of other people’s children. Ask for references in both cases.
  • Make sure he or she shares your family values, especially if you plan to hire an au pair with whom you will be sharing your personal family life. Even though he or she might have other customs, since the au pair is likely from a culture and country different from yours, ask him or her about core beliefs and morals.
  • Use an agency for both au pairs and nannies since most agencies do a background check. There are many au pair agencies out there like Great Au Pair and Au Pair Care
  • Your family should meet the au pair or nanny before you hire him or her. Talk about your expectations and make sure your personalities are a good fit. If the au pair lives in a foreign country, schedule some Skype calls in advance of the move. 
  • Before hiring an au pair or nanny, make sure the monetary compensation and list of specific chores expected from him or her are clear for both parties.

If you make sure through extensive research that the au pair or nanny is a good fit for your family, your family and the au pair or nany will end up having a wonderful and enriching experience.

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Raising a Chocolate Child in a Vanilla World: Part II

May 13, 2014

By Dr. Tyffani Dent

A black female toddler holds a white baby doll.

Editor’s note: In yesterday’s article, “Raising a Chocolate Child in a Vanilla World: Part I,” Dr. Dent told us about her daughter’s comment about wanting to be a blonde girl. She shared her family’s story of researching where to live and to which school district to send her daughter to make sure she was raised in a diverse community.

Today she shares tips on how to help your child embrace his or her diversity. While the below tips are written specifically for African-American females, we think they apply to children of any race or ethnicity.

  • Point out other girls who look like her when you see them on television, in movies, and in the community. Make sure to talk about how beautiful they are.
  • Positively comment on your child's unique physical attributes. For example, when combing her hair, talk about how pretty and thick it is. Show her how the texture allows her to wear nice bows, ponytails, braids, etc.
  • Go overboard. There are not many characters in pop culture that look like her. Buy the books, t-shirts, magazines, music, etc. of the latest African-American "it" girl or cartoon character. Caution: these characters should also embody your values and beliefs while being an age-appropriate role model for your child.
  • Although not all of her friends need to be "chocolate children," you should make a conscious effort to provide her with a "chocolate frame-of-reference." Expose her to some chocolate children her age so she does not always feel like an outsider, which can also contribute to feelings of alienation and a desire to be the same as everyone else.
  • Don't dismiss her concerns as petty. Acknowledge them, listen to her reasoning, and work to gently provide information that combats such a negative view of self.
  • Breathe. This is also a normal part of her development as she is at the age when she is noticing differences and is out of the cocoon of your home. She is being exposed to society and its overall representation of what is and is not good. Again, don’t ignore it, but also don’t give up on the belief that your child will begin to love herself.
  • Engage her in activities to build her self-esteem. Encourage her healthy interests that can also provide her with a coat of armor against negative stereotypes that are all around her. If she is an athlete, find your local sports team. A singer? Get out the hairbrush and have a concert at the house or have her join the choir at your house of worship.

All of these tips can help your child build confidence and embrace his or her uniqueness, whether it’s due to race, ethnicity, gender, or many other factors. The important thing is to love your child and help them see how wonderful he or she truly is.

[Editor’s note: this article is part two of a two-part series on issues that face racially diverse children and their parents. For the author’s story about her family’s experience, see part one.]



Dr. Tyffani Monford Dent is a licensed psychologist, motivational speaker, and author. She lectures and trains on issues of mental health disparity in minority communities, children’s and women’s issues, and sexual abuse intervention and prevention. Dr. Dent is also the Executive Director of Monford Dent Consulting & Psychological Services, LLC and the author of the book Girls Got Issues: A Woman’s Guide to Self-discovery and Healing.

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