Say you’re at a play date, and your friend’s toddler is pointing out animals in a book and drawing colorful circles with crayons. Your little one? Not so much.
Should you be worried?
First of all, children develop at their own pace. With that in mind, how do parents know whether their child is developing at a typical rate versus whether they may have a possible learning disability or developmental delay? It helps to know what your child should be doing at each stage of life.
Check with your doctor
At birth, your doctor should give you a list of what your baby should be able to do before the next checkup. This list is your first guide. It will tell you around when to expect certain skills to develop, like sitting up, crawling and talking. The checklist evolves as your child grows.
If you notice your child isn’t doing things other children his or her age are doing, and you’re worried, then trust your judgement and alert your child’s doctor as soon as possible.
Trust your instincts
You can also take action on your own. Observe your child. If he’s 1 to 3 years old, does he play with other children? Does he look at people? Can he handle small and large toys easily? If the answer is no, parents and caregivers in Palm Beach County can reach out for help – for free.
“People often think it’s bad behavior or bad parenting,” says Sharon Alexander of Unicorn Children’s Foundation in Boca Raton. “There are programs for children from birth, with no costs to the family. I’m always telling families to err on the side of caution.”
That’s because if there is a delay, early intervention can often help a child catch up to his or her peers.
Local groups can help
Parents can call the free help line, 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, and ask for Help Me Grow or the Special Needs Hotline, both of which receive funding from Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. The 211 specialist will ask parents questions and usually can find a family help within 24 hours. The 211 specialist also will call parents back in a few weeks to check up.
“We don’t just give them a phone number and say, ‘Have a nice life,’ ” says Randee Gabriel, children and family services manager of 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast. “We call them up. One of the main reasons parents don’t come to an appointment is that they don’t know why it’s important. They may be thinking, ‘I make $7.50 an hour and if I miss five hours of work, I don’t get to buy groceries this week.’ So we tell them why it’s important to go. They know they have a support person.”
Families often have several problems to solve, in fact. The 211 specialists start by helping them keep a roof over their heads, find food pantries and secure help paying the electric bill, if needed. They also ask every caller if they have young children and if they are having any problems at school or home.
“I say to them, we’re free, we’re confidential, and there may be resources out there that we can help them tap into,” says Jennifer Harris, a special needs advocate for 211.
Home Safe -
Children also can be assessed for free by child developmental specialists through Home Safe, which is funded by Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. Young children who are identified at risk for a delay then may be referred to one of a number of programs, such as Early Steps, a program of Easter Seals Florida, or First Step to Success, run by The Arc Palm Beach County.
Child Find -
The school district also offers help for young children. Its Child Find program evaluates children ages 3 to 5. If your child needs special education in pre-kindergarten, he or she can be placed in a program within 60 days, says Kevin McCormick, director of exceptional student education for the School District of Palm Beach County.
Whatever your concern as a parent, don’t panic. Palm Beach County has resources that can help.
- Mary Ellen Quinn-Lunny, director, Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities
- Randee Gabriel, Children and Family Services manager, 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast
- Jennifer Harris, special needs advocate, 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast
- Kevin McCormick, director of Exceptional Student Education, School District of Palm Beach County
- Sharon Alexander, executive director, Unicorn Children’s Foundation