Every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect. Many other babies experience delays or disabilities as they grow up. In fact, “as many as one in four children through the age of five are at risk for a developmental delay or disability,” according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. The sooner a child is identified as having a condition that requires treatment, the sooner he may start receiving appropriate interventions and begin improving. This sounds logical, right? Yet, many children with developmental challenges somehow don’t receive the help they need until much later.
When my daughter’s speech delay was evident, I asked her pediatrician “Should we wait a year and see if she grows out of it?” Thankfully, he said “Why would you wait?” His attitude was that if we started right away, there would be a chance that this small problem would not become a bigger problem later. He was right.
If your child has a broken leg, would you wait to have it set? Of course not. If you did not intervene with the cast and crutches, your child would continue to suffer and perhaps get worse. The same is true with other types of disabilities or delays – early treatment is essential for improvement.
Good news: more help is here
The Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! initiative was launched last week. It is a federal effort to encourage developmental and behavioral screening and support for children, families, and the providers who care for them. Yes, screening and intervention processes have been in place for years in the U.S. However, this initiative features a toolkit with an array of “research-based screening tools” to help pediatricians, parents, social workers, case workers, early care and education providers find help at the local level. The toolkit has resources to raise awareness about healthy development, recommended screening and follow-up practices. The Families page has info on developmental milestones, how to find services in your local area, tips and resources on positive parenting, and other helpful topics.
This initiative comes on the heels of the newly announced increase in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rates. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data that indicate ASD rates have risen to 1 in 68 children aged 8 years (which is up from 1 in 88). The CDC says that most children with ASD are diagnosed after age 4, even though ASD can be diagnosed as early as age 2.
What’s a solution?
Early diagnosis and early treatment.
As parents, you know your child best. If you have a suspicion that something is not right, don’t wait. Speak up and tell your child’s pediatrician. Learn about developmental milestones and see if your child is on track. If not, say something.
The Early Intervention program in the U.S. is here for babies and toddlers up to their third birthday. The Special Education program takes over for children ages 3 and older. The key is getting babies, toddlers and children identified as early as possible, and starting intervention. Find your local program for children up to their third birthday and request that your baby/child be screened for developmental delays or disabilities without a referral from a provider. And it is free to you. If your child is age 3 or older, request a screening from your child’s school.
Throughout my daughter’s childhood, I heard “Don’t wait” so many times – from doctors and specialists to special educators and therapists. As a result, we jumped on the therapy/intervention path right away, as each issue surfaced, and tackled each problem one by one (or often two by two). I am glad that I had the influence of professionals to prod and guide me along the way. The efforts certainly paid off for my child.
If you need to get help for your child, you now have more than enough resources to get going. The Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! initiative is there to set young children off on the right foot, and the Special Education program is there to continue to help kids up to age 21. Hopefully, your child’s first steps will soon become leaps as you see him thrive. So, don’t delay with delays.
Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). As always, we welcome your comments and input – send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.