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Addressing Your Child’s Physical and Emotional Delays

February 24, 2015

By Maureen Powers

Addressing Your Child’s Physical and Emotional Delays | Are you worried that your child isn't speaking, playing with other children, or growing and developing in the same way as other children the same age? If so, your child may have a developmental delay. Read on for how you can help. | The image shows a young child crying in public.

Are you worried that your child isn’t speaking, playing with other children, or growing and developing in the same way as other children the same age? If so, your child may have a developmental delay. The good news is that all states are required by the federal government to help identify children with physical or emotional delays and provide help for them to grow and develop to their fullest potential. Research proves that the earlier we start helping children with delays, the less likely children are to need help once they start school.

Helping children when there is a concern about development starts with a process called Child Find. This process requires states to provide developmental screeners for all children with suspected disabilities from birth through age 21 at no cost to the families. Each state develops its own criteria for meeting the requirements of the law.

In many states the local public school district handles the entire Child Find process for any age. In other states, the path is different depending on the age of the child. The first step for any concerned parent or adult is to contact your local school district. If your district does not handle Child Find for infants and toddlers, the ECTA Center can help you find the name and contact numbers for the lead agency for infants and toddlers in your state.

Once the Child Find developmental screener has been completed, the results will only indicate if there is or is not a concern about development. If the screener indicates a concern in one or more areas, it means that it is important to take a closer look.

At that point, the screener can refer you to qualified professionals who will conduct a more extensive, comprehensive evaluation that examines all aspects of development. This evaluation must be completed within 45 days of parents or legal guardians giving written permission for the evaluation.

If the results of the evaluation identify a delay, then the child is eligible for services. Details of what these specialized services will be are written in what is called an Individualized Family Service Plan or the IFSP for infants and toddlers or the Individual Education Plan or the IEP for children three years and older.

For information on one mom’s experience with an IEP, read her articles Early Intervention: Part I and Early Intervention: Part II.

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8 Ways to Address Struggles at School

October 28, 2014

By Maureen Powers

8 Ways to Address Struggles at School | A child cries at recess.

It is 5:30 PM and you are rushing to pick up your three-year-old. When you get to the classroom door, the teacher greets you and says, “He had another rough day today. He hit another child and left a mark.” You read the incident report and sign it. You begin to wonder if this is the right center for your child.

You sit across the breakfast table from your kindergartener and she whines for the fourth day in a row that she has a stomachache and doesn’t want to go to school. You suspect she isn’t really sick and have made her go to school all week but you are still concerned. What could be making her not want to go to school?

Do any of these concerns sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Children often tell us what they are experiencing through their behavior. In both of these situations, contact the classroom teacher in order to get a well-rounded picture of the situation. Then use these eight tips to address your child’s struggle and help him or her overcome it.

The first thing to remember is to stay calm and be objective. If you are angry or defensive, it will take longer for you to get answers. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts. Make sure you can discuss exactly what you are concerned about: “Matthew has been getting two or three incident reports per week,” or “Kaylee has been saying she does not want to come to school and is complaining of stomachaches.”

Approach the teacher at a good time. Teachers are busiest at pick-up and drop-off times. These are not the times for an extended conversation. Call and leave a message, or tell the teacher you would like a meeting and leave your phone number and e-mail as well as the best times to reach you.

Prepare your questions ahead of time. Be direct and specific. What happens before and after the hitting? Have there been any major changes in the classroom? Does your child ask for frequent passes to the bathroom or the nurse? Does your child often ask for help?

Work as a team. You both want what is best for your child.

Share your child’s likes and dislikes. You know your child best. You know what motivates your child, what he or she enjoys or detests. In-depth knowledge about your child may be the key to supporting him or her at school.

Be open to suggestions. Allow the teacher to share with you how your child is at school. Children can behave differently in different situations. Be open to new ways of looking at your child.

Ask for ways you can help your child at home. If you don’t understand a concept, ask the teacher to show you how the concept is taught at school. What words are used?

Make a plan. Be sure you leave the meeting with a clear idea of what each of you will be doing to support your child at school and at home.

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Early Intervention: Part II

October 14, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Early Intervention: Part II | A young boy sits on the floor, reaching up.

Last month I wrote about the early intervention program that is required by law in every U.S. state and territory to provide services to qualifying infants or toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. After going through the intake and evaluation process with my son, my husband and I learned he had a 33 percent delay in expressive language, and we opted to enroll him in a speech therapy program.

After attending several therapy sessions, I have the following advice for parents who want to get the most out of their child’s therapy sessions—whether they are for speech or any other type of developmental delay:

Recognize that therapy is “play.”
According to my son’s speech therapist, many parents go into the sessions expecting worksheets and an intensive drilling of skills. They may be a little surprised when the therapist pulls out a variety of toys and starts to play with the child. However, each toy and game serves two specific purposes: it grabs the child’s attention, and it relates to a specific skill.

For example, one toy my son’s therapist used was a simple coffee can with holes punched in the lid. My son was entranced as he spent the next five minutes putting different-colored straws through the holes in the lid. However, he also practiced making d-sounds as the therapist guided him to say “drop” each time a straw went in the canister and then “dump” when he poured them all out again.

Be present at therapy sessions.
If at all possible, sit in and observe multiple therapy sessions. You will soon pick up on some of the techniques the therapist uses with your child, which you can then apply on your own. I was amazed by how many simple-yet-effective communication skills I learned. For example, instead of letting my son point to the sippy cup he wanted to use each morning, I learned to prompt him so he’d have to give me a verbal response: “Do you want the blue cup or the green cup?”

Communicate with the therapist.
If you are not able to be present for therapy sessions, ask your child’s therapist to call or e-mail you after a session to provide a brief progress report. Find out what specific skill your child worked on and what accomplishments your child made. Also keep the therapist apprised of any gains or setbacks you notice in your child. This will help the therapist monitor your child’s overall progress.

For instance, after he’d completed a few speech therapy sessions, I suddenly noticed that my son was becoming much more vocal in terms of repeating what my husband and I said—without any prompting. Communicating this information to the therapist helped her determine that our son had achieved one of the goals in his development plan—unprompted imitation of language.

Practice with your child.
Just like playing an instrument or riding a bike, the main way a child makes progress with developmental skills is through practice, practice, practice. Look for ways to incorporate the techniques you observe into your child’s everyday life. My husband and I have turned elements of our son’s daily routine into opportunities for practicing speech. During diaper changes, we sing songs with repetitive phrases that he’ll repeat. At bath time, we offer him two different toys and prompt him to verbally respond with his choice. At bedtime, we read books about animals and he mimics their sounds.

I am amazed at the amount of progress my son has made in such a short amount of time, and I am grateful that the affordable services of my state’s early intervention program are available to him. I would definitely encourage parents who suspect their child has a developmental delay to take advantage of this program. It is a valuable resource that, along with parental engagement, can be the key to a child’s success.



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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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 child is mean and disrespectful to me. How can I change his behavior?

April 25, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

A boy angrily faces the camera.

Question: When my son gets angry about something, he takes it out on me by calling me vulgar names and insulting my life choices. He does this in public and at home. How can I help him change his behavior and see how inappropriately he is behaving?

Answer: This is a very difficult situation for any parent to deal with. It can be emotionally difficult and potentially embarrassing when it happens in public. Start with these suggestions to change your son’s behavior.

  • Establish boundaries. As soon as you notice this negative behavior repeating, set limits with your child. Calmly tell him that you will not respond to that behavior and you will wait until he calms down. The sooner you establish these boundaries, the sooner your son has the opportunity to change his behavior.
  • Stay consistent. Enforce your rules regularly, especially when it comes to punishments. Your child is more likely to repeat negative behaviors if he can get away with them on occasion. Don’t give in just because he’s causing a scene—hold your ground.
  • Explain your stance. Once your son calms down, you can talk to him about why his behavior was inappropriate. Try putting it in perspective by asking him how he would feel if someone called him those names. Ask him why he was so angry. These conversations may provide insight into why he is behaving that way.

These suggestions are good places to start with your son. However, the behavior you describe could be a symptom of a bigger issue. Speak to his physician about the behavior. He or she may refer you to a child therapist who can assist your efforts with your son and determine if another diagnosis is necessary.

For more information on establishing boundaries and consistent discipline, see pages 56 and 75 in Through Elementary and Middle School, one of the books in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher 3-book set.

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