In this article, you will find answers to questions like:
- What to expect?
- Should I trust my instincts?
- What local groups can help?
Say you’re at a play date, and your friend’s toddler points out animals in a book and draws 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.
1. WHAT TO EXPECT?
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 when to expect certain skills to develop, such as sitting, crawling and talking. The checklist evolves as your child grows.
If you're worried your child isn’t doing things other children the same age are doing, trust your judgement and alert your child’s doctor as soon as possible.
2. SHOULD I TRUST MY INSTINCTS?
You also can 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 early intervention can often help a child catch up to his or her peers if there is a delay.
3. WHAT 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, which receive funding from Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. The 211 specialist will ask parents questions and usually can find a 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, programs manager of 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast. “We call them up. One of the main reasons parents don’t come to an appointment is 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.
Children also can be assessed for free by child developmental specialists through HomeSafe, 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 Easterseals Florida, or First Step to Success, run by The Arc Palm Beach County.
The school district also offers help for young children. Its Child Find program evaluates children ages 3 to 5. If children need special education in pre-kindergarten, they 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. Call 561-434-8740.
Whatever your concern as a parent, don’t panic. Palm Beach County has resources that can help.
• Randee Gabriel, programs 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, chief executive officer, Unicorn Children’s Foundation