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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.


Bye-Bye Binky!

August 15, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Bye-Bye Binky! | A toddler sits with his pacifier in his mouth, looking innocent and curious.

My son’s pacifier is more than just your average piece of silicone. An ingenious invention called a WubbaNub, it is a small stuffed cat with a green pacifier attached to its mouth. We call it Fluffy Kitty, and it has been with my son since the day we brought him home from the hospital. For the past year and a half, it has been his source of comfort and the preserver of my husband’s and my sanity.

Pacifier use is one of those parenting issues that EVERYONE seems have an opinion about, but there’s really no right or wrong answer. On the pro side, pacifier use is thought to reduce the risk of SIDS, and it’s a great way to satisfy a baby’s sucking reflex. On the con side, prolonged pacifier use can lead to problems with speech development and may affect the way a child’s teeth line up. And then, of course, there is the question of when to take it away.

For my son, that moment came last month at his first dental appointment. The dentist pointed out his slightly protruding front teeth and told me that if he stopped the pacifier now, it wouldn’t affect his permanent teeth when they came in.

The thought of saving thousands of dollars in orthodontist bills was enough to convince me that Fluffy Kitty needed to go. However, the idea of depriving my son of his comfort object made me reluctant to cut him off cold turkey. So after doing a little research, I came up with the following steps to gently wean him off the pacifier.

  1. Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Upon observation, I began to realize that my son’s pacifier use during the day was a subconscious habit. If he saw his pacifier lying around, he’d just scoop it up, put it in his mouth, and go about his business. So when he was distracted, I started hiding it where he wouldn’t easily spot it. Sure enough, he didn’t seem to notice it was missing!
  2. Crib Confinement. Once my son didn’t seem to rely on it as a crutch anymore, I instilled the rule that the pacifier never leaves the crib. We made a game out of it—he would have the pacifier in his mouth when I picked him up out of bed, but then I would say, “Hi-ya!” and he would fling it back into the crib with a big smile on his face.
  3. Paci-Free Naps. The next step was to try to get my son to take his afternoon nap without a pacifier. I have to admit I had some help with this step since my son takes most of his naps at daycare. His teacher would lay him down on his cot and pat his back until he fell asleep. It took awhile the first day, but after a few days, he was napping like a champ—no backrubs necessary!
  4. A New Bedtime Routine. The final step toward a pacifier-free lifestyle involved removing the pacifier from the bedtime routine. I made a point of letting my son pick out a different stuffed animal to snuggle with when we read bedtime stories each night. My goal was to help him find a different comfort object that didn’t go in his mouth. He eventually settled on a plush white cat that my husband and I have jokingly named Fluffy Kitty 2.

We’ve only recently transitioned to this final step, and bedtime can still be a little rocky at times, but I know there is smooth pacifier-free sailing on the horizon.

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.


5 Ways to Avoid Unsafe Toys

July 31, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

5 Tips to Avoid Unsafe Toys | Photo of a toy with a close up of the warning label that reads: Warning: Choking hazard. Small parts. Not for children under 3 years.

Buying toys is so much fun. I love to buy toys for children’s birthdays and usually stay away from gift cards or cash. While it’s fun to buy gifts, I am very careful when purchasing toys for children. There are many things to look out for when purchasing a toy. Here are five tips to avoid buying unsafe toys.

  1. Consider Age. Always look for the recommended age on the toy’s packaging. Remember that a child under three years old continues to have a tendency of putting objects in his or her mouth. Make sure that you purchase a toy that is intended for your child’s age.
  2. Look for Small Parts. Inspect the toy and see if it contains parts that can easily come off. If they are off the toy, can these parts fit through a toilet paper roll? The diameter of a toilet paper roll is similar to the mouth and esophagus of your child. The loose part is a choking hazard if it goes through the roll.
  3. Buy BPA-Free Plastic. BPA, also known as bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been used in the production of certain plastics since the 1960s. Some research experts found that exposure to BPA may cause health effects on brain development, behavior, and the prostate gland of a child, even in infants and fetuses. Look for BPA-free labels on toys you plan to buy.
  4. Avoid Batteries. Battery-operated toys are fun, but there is always a risk of shock, battery acid leakage, or choking. Make sure you inspect the toy and ensure that your child cannot get to the battery (these toys should have a safety door that requires a screwdriver to access the battery). Button batteries are smaller, more powerful (most are made of lithium), and therefore dangerous. If swallowed, they can send an electric current through the body that can cause a severe burn if not treated quickly. Try to especially avoid these batteries.
  5. Natural is Best. Look for labels that indicate organic or natural base dyes/coloring. Stay away from heavy-painted toys, toys containing glass, and fragile toys. Simple wooden blocks are still fun—kids use their imaginations and build amazing structures and stories to go with them.

Remember to consider these and other tips for finding safe toys. There are different concerns depending on the age range of the toy, so do some research before you buy.


How can I keep my daughter healthy at school?

July 25, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

How can I keep my daughter healthy at school? | A parent measures cough syrup for a young child, who lays in bed.

Question: My daughter will be starting preschool in the fall as I go back to work. I’m really worried that she’s going to get sick from all the germs that other kids carry around. How can I keep her healthy?

Answer: You have a right to worry about your daughter getting sick from other kids. Some contagious illnesses and conditions are more common in larger groups than in small groups. But with a few precautionary measures, you can help prevent some of the more serious conditions.

First, make sure you vaccinate your child in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) schedule. Children under six years old are the most vulnerable for potentially life-threatening diseases, but by ensuring your daughter has the recommended vaccines for her age, you can help prevent her from catching those diseases and spreading them to others.

Less serious conditions are more difficult to avoid. For example, lice or the common cold may spread throughout the preschool. For these situations, your best defense is a good offense.

  • Wash your and your daughter’s hands frequently, especially after touching doorknobs or light switches.
  • Teach your child not to put her hands in her mouth, nose, or eyes, especially while at preschool. This practice can prevent common viruses from getting into her body.
  • Give her tissues when she coughs or sneezes to avoid spreading germs.
  • Make sure the preschool has separate bedding for nap times to avoid contracting or spreading lice.
  • If your daughter isn’t feeling well, keep her home from school until she feels better and ask her doctor for advice on proper treatment.

As your daughter grows up and goes to school with more kids, she will be exposed to more germs and viruses. While it’s okay to be concerned, take the above actions to prevent contracting and spreading illnesses. Remember, she is building her immune system, which is important for her overall health.

For more information on preventing illnesses and keeping your child healthy, see the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher 3-book set.


Psychology: Children and Motivation

June 25, 2014

By Dr. Tyffani Dent

A mother smiles with her two daughters.

I have two daughters. Having them made me realize two things: God has a sense of humor, and my mother’s prayer that I have little girls “just like me” was not meant as a blessing. I have come face-to-face with the realization that my daughters have very different levels of motivation for learning and completing tasks.

My oldest has always been very easy. We would provide her with a task or new opportunity and she would demonstrate a phenomenal eagerness to learn and do. She was persistent in staying on tasks, enjoyed new challenges, and would work without much assistance from us.

In my youngest, I found myself cajoling, arguing, fussing, bribing, and begging her to stay on task and try new things. She would look at me politely and say, “No, thank you,” letting me know she had manners but no desire to do what I asked.

As a psychologist, I realized that my daughters had different motivation types. One can either be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. An intrinsically motivated person has the internal desire to perform a task because he or she enjoys it, likes the idea of learning something new, or believes it is just something that he or she should do. My oldest is an example of intrinsic motivation.

An extrinsically motivated person does not have this same desire. When this person does perform tasks, he or she will do so for a specific reward that he or she values more than the task itself. My youngest is an example of an extrinsically motivated person. With these children, we run the risk of them not working to their full potential, as schools and society do not always offer tangible rewards for learning or excelling at a task or activity.

In the case of my youngest and extrinsically motivated daughter, I found that I was not alone in my begging, bribing, or giving in to her candy demands. At her preschool, I noticed sticker charts for saying ABCs, certificates for coloring, and candy for listening (all extrinsic motivators), even though research shows that only focusing on external rewards is not successful in the long term.

In acknowledging the need to increase intrinsic motivation in children, one study provided a few tips:

  1. Set a goal that your child finds meaningful. For my daughter, this meant learning to leap higher, which involved her actively going to ballet class.
  2. Stimulate his or her interest. When trying to get her to want to learn colors, we asked her what she thought would happen if we mixed colors together. By engaging her interest, we helped her motivation to learn.
  3. Show your child that working gives him or her power. Children like a sense of control and to believe that what they do has an impact. Give your child choices so he or she feels control over the situation. For my youngest, we asked her, “Do you want to write your numbers or say them to Mommy?”
  4. Work and play do not have to be separate. Make the task into a game. Learning does not have to be boring. Be creative—use a sibling’s board game to learn problem solving or counting.
  5. Sometimes extrinsic rewards are beneficial. Even though stickers, charts, and occasional candy aren’t optimal, sometimes they can help motivate your child.

Children may have different levels of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. As parents, we should try to increase intrinsic motivation in our children. Now, I am going to get myself a cup of coffee, because even adults like rewards sometimes.

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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