Finding Answers

The population of children with developmental delaysis growing at an epidemic rate. Parents and teachers are facing many unknowns:

  • Is this child affected by a developmental delay?
  • If so, what is this delay?
  • How do we know what the problem is?
  • Where do we go to determine?
  • How extensively is he affected?
  • What do we do and how can we treat it?
  • How do we overcome the obstacles?

Answering these questions and taking a proactive stand can greatly affect the outcome of the child’s life. Implementing appropriate educational and medical strategies to treat a developmental delay can be a means to fill the gaps left empty by a developmental delay.

The first and most important step is recognition of a problem. If you are suspicious that something is not right, you are probably right and you should follow your instincts. The first step to resolution is recognizing that a problem exists. With a developmental delay, the earlier intervention is implemented, the more likely it is that treatment will be effective. There is a window of opportunity to affect child development, and it is crucial that you don’t allow that window to close just because of your doubts. When in doubt, seek help, advice, and opinions. The first major signs of delay include:

  • Lack of language or delayed language
  • Impaired social skills
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Medical problems
  • Impaired immune system

The above is a list of very broad categories. The severity of an impairment can fall anywhere within a very expansive range. As an example, the diagnosis of autism is often referred to as ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder. A child diagnosed with ASD can be severely impaired with motor problems, lack of speech, absence of social skills while another child diagnosed with ASD may be diagnosed with aspergers-another form of ASD that is associated with significant social impairment.

1. Determine if there is a delay or disorder

Visit doctors or centers specializing in assessing developmental delays.Options may include: developmental pediatricians, neurologists, neuropsychologists, specialty centers for autism or developmental delays.

2. Obtain a diagnosis

Getting a diagnosis allows you to begin treatment.  Many parents are hesitant to“label” their child as they fear the impact a label can create.  They are concerned their child will be treated differently by their peers, ostracized, or humiliated.  Obtaining a diagnosis is therefore imperative in treating a disorder or delay. The diagnosis will have a significant impact on the options available toyour child. It should be noted that state services and school services are usually only available to children with a diagnosis. It is IMPERATIVE to obtain a diagnosis in order to obtain the services the child needs, deserves and is legally entitled to.

3. Develop resource lists

Start asking for available resources, recommendations, treatment information, centers, support groups and online resources. Talk to doctors, therapy providers, state education agencies, local and national organizations. Begin researching services and treatment options on the internet. Look for support groups, online chat groups, and newsletters.  There is a wealth of information available online and the process of educating yourself begins with finding those resources and immersing yourself into them. At first, this experience is quite overwhelming, but with time, you will become more comfortable, and will sort out what is appropriate for your situation and what is not. Talking to others that have traveled this road will also give you comfort and confirm that you are moving in the right direction by looking for help.

4. Research the condition

Begin to research the condition, the symptoms, the available treatment options, the causes, etc..  While research remains inconclusive regarding the cause of most delays,the controversial issues should be taken into consideration at some point during treatment by seeking medical attention for existing medical conditions. The severity of medical impairment can range widely. Often,more severe cases of developmentaldelay are accompanied by medical conditions that require medical intervention. Less severe impairments may not require medical intervention, but may be treated successfully withe ducational therapy only. Medical conditions associated with delays may include immune system dysfunction, allergies, motor issues, seizures, impaired auditory processing.

5. Learn your rights and the child’s rights

Probably one of the most powerfultools available to you is knowing what a child is legally entitled to. This will enable you to be the child’s advocate and obtain the educational services that he/she needs! Individual states have websites that outline special education law, provide options for ordering copies of the laws and provide links to other relevant sites.

Many advocacy websites are available online to support you and to provide friendly, easy to read resources and navigation tools to assist you in your advocacy.

6. Obtain a FUNCTIONAL education

There is a whole world of educational products and teaching methods available for special education. The MOST important skills necessary for children to acquire are functional skills. Functional skills are the skills needed to allow a person to take part in the real world.  Education and learning is only useful when it can actually be used! The degree to which a child is affected by a delay will affect the level of skills he or she is able to learn. Regardless of the child’s ability, it still remains that all of the skills he learns MUST BE useful to the child and this requires them to be functional.

The methods of education, the goals of the education and the amount of teaching is usually decided by an IEP (Individualized Education Program) committee. This committee can include any therapy provider, school psychologists, school administration, teachers, and a parent. Determining the appropriate education to be implemented requires an assessment of skills to be administered prior to making future education decisions.  Anyone involved in this decision process should be familiar with the assessment tools used and the associated functionality of the skills.

Treatment should always lead to acquisition of functional skills.  As an example, a child can be taught vocabulary or speech.  Teaching speech and language skills are a prerequisite to building communication.   For communication to be functional, the language should be language that is appropriate and is a part of the child’s everyday life. It is appropriate for a 2 year old child to learn to ask for items he wants or needs like food or toys, orlearn to wash his hands and use the bathroom.  Learning his ABC’s or counting may not be a priority at this time as it does not provide the child with a needed skill to communicate or perform his basic needs. The goals ofeducation should always consider the functionality of the skills.

Education treatment should follow a logical path based on the child’s needs. The form of intervention should also cater to a child’s learning style. If a child is not an auditory learner, obviously other sensory methodsshould be utilized. Developmentally delayed children are often visual learners and not auditory learners.  Naturally, the methods used to teach should be based on visual input.

This is all very overwhelmingwhen considered at once. Breaking down the process and taking into consideration the obvious will allow for a logical path to be constructed. Teaching and or caring for a child with special needs is an extremely difficult job. Every day presents a new challenge. The number of variables is endless. The answers to education and treatment are not definitive.

There is no map to obtaining theperfect treatment and education plan, but the reward of educating and treating a child, and obtaining even the smallest successes is the greatest reward of all!  Every successis priceless because it has brought a change that will last for a child’s entire life!

Take one day at a time, one project at a time, one skill at a time – education and treatment is an evolving process that will never truly end but instead by refined. Pathways will be found-with patience and perseverance.  And remember, knowledge is power and Rome was not built in a day.

Mary Beth Palo, founder of Watch Me Learn is an active advocate for special needs children and special education rights. Ms. Palo has been a featured speaker at national, state and local annual conferences including:

Closing the Gap, Autism One®, NY State School Psychology, National AutismAssociation and others. Mary Beth does volunteer, fundraising and advocacy work with national and local nonprofit organizations as well as participating in legislative efforts in New York State. In June 2007, Mary Beth was named one of New York State’s Distinguished Women. Mary Beth graduated from Saint Bonaventure University, with a BBA degree. She resides on Long Island with her husband, David and their two children. Visit her website at: