The first three years of a child’s life are full of changes and growth. Infants and toddlers learn a variety of skills in early childhood, such as sitting up, eating solid foods, and saying words. Each new developed skill is exciting for both children and their families.
However, when a child is behind in any given area, the observed delay can be very alarming. So, you may be wondering, “When should I seek developmental services for my child?” The purpose of this blog post is to discuss considerations parents can make in determining if it is appropriate to seek early childhood developmental therapy for their child.
To start, it is important to know the different developmental milestones (you can refer to the CDC milestones list) when considering your child’s needs and skill level. However, because children develop at different rates, it is crucial that you consider these milestones relative to your specific family and community.
For example, 12 months is often considered the approximate age when children say their first words. However, if in your family, children typically do not say their first words until approximately 14 months, 14 months may be your set of “norms.” Conversely, if you have multiple children, all of whom started speaking at 12 months, and your youngest child is not following the same pattern, it may be a sign of speech delay.
There are certain situations that increase your child’s risk of requiring developmental services (e.g. speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy):
1. Premature Birth
A child who is born prematurely is often at an increased risk for having delayed early development.
There is a strong genetic component to many developmental delays and disabilities, so it’s important to consider your family history in this area. If there are other members of your family who were delayed in certain developmental skills and required support services, your child’s risk of needing support increases.
3. Male Children
Children born as males are significantly more likely than females to be delayed and/or diagnosed with developmental disabilities. This does not mean, however, that a female who is delayed will not require services or have a developmental disability.
While it is important to consider the above factors and development milestones in determining when it is time to seek early childhood therapy services for your child, you, as the parent or caregiver, likely know your child better than anyone else.
If you think something isn't quite right, it's never too early to have your child evaluated by the appropriate professional to determine if services are warranted.
For example, if you have gross motor concerns for your child (e.g. sitting up, walking), you should seek a physical therapist's (PT) professional opinion. Additionally, if you have communication concerns for your child (e.g. late talking, pronunciation challenges), you should seek a speech-language pathologist's (SLP) professional opinion.
Many families, however, first express their concerns to a pediatrician. Unfortunately, though, many pediatricians give a false sense of security due to a belief in the "wait and see" approach, which would lead you to delay services and postpone your child’s development further.
Early intervention is founded on the principle that receiving intervention as early as possible will allow for the best possible outcomes. There are numerous research briefs and articles that support this idea, such as InBrief: The Science of Early Childhood Development and An Investigation into the Effectiveness of an Early Intervention Method for Delayed Language Development in Young Children.
So, to answer the question of when to seek early childhood developmental services, the answer is “it depends.” It’s important to consider a number of variables and follow your gut when deciding the right time to seek services for your child, keeping in mind that it’s never too early.
The best advice is to contact your local early intervention agency and/or the healthcare professional specializing in your area of concern to determine if now is the right time to begin therapy for your child.
Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice located in Hackettstown, NJ. She is also the co-author of the book From Meals to Milestones: 35 Delicious Dishes to Encourage Child Development. For more information about Courtney, visit her website at www.libertyspeechassociates.com.