My son is turning 3 soon, and as we age out of Early Steps and start the process for Child Find, it feels like one chapter is closing and another starting. If you’re wondering about early intervention services for your child, these are some things I wish I’d known sooner.
Don’t fight the evaluation
If your pediatrician or other medical professional suggests your child be evaluated for physical, occupational, or speech therapy, don’t fight it. Don’t let the only action be to ask the mom group for reassurance and comfort read stories about babies who magically woke up and walked or spoke full sentences one day. Don’t wait and see. Early intervention is critical to child development.
We did both private therapy and Early Steps. The evaluations are easy, and everyone we’ve worked with in every setting has been kind. It’s so hard to grapple with the idea that your child’s path may not be linear and may not look the same as other kids their age. But an evaluation never hurts — and they are unlikely to recommend services you don’t need.
I didn’t want to do the first evaluations. I thought people were just reading into things. Nothing could be wrong with my baby, they didn’t know him like I did! But they ended up being right. I’m glad I listened and got the evaluation right away instead of “waiting to see.”
But sometimes you may need to fight for the evaluation
When my son was 18 months old, after a year of physical therapy, our family then had concerns about his speech. He never babbled, copied us, or said anything other than “Mama.” Our pediatrician was a little reluctant to give us a referral since he was so young but agreed after I pushed for it. Thank goodness we did, when we were evaluated by experts it revealed a profound speech delay that we are still working through.
So, if you’re worried something is wrong and you’re torn between “waiting to see” and pushing for an evaluation, push for the evaluation. It’s better to know one way or the other than to worry.
Explore your choices (you can always make a change)
Jacksonville has many early intervention options, including publicly funded Early Steps, which focuses on educating the parents and will come to your home, as well as offering many private providers. We started with a private therapist but after nine months had hit a wall and more therapies were being recommended that our insurance didn’t cover, so we reached out to Early Steps. Our new therapist was a great fit and also as supportive of us, the parents, as our son. At the same time, we did have trouble with staff shortages, so I had to research and find an OT outside of the system. It’s okay to mix and match, and it’s okay to make a change.
Protect your peace
I don’t want to sugarcoat it — walking this path can be hard. And you know what makes it worse? All the noise. There’s the MomFluencer selling a course on how to teach your 6-week-old to talk (just read to them, Mama!) or crawling master classes, implying that delays are your fault. Don’t even get me started on the diet and detox accounts. Not helpful and super triggering for guilt and anxiety! I unfollowed every advice-giving parenting account and actively block anything that makes me feel guilty or jealous. My tips come from medical professionals who know me and my child personally. You don’t need that energy!
People in your life mean well, but a rogue comment or misguided advice can sting. It’s okay to put some distance there if needed, especially with acquaintances. I have found it is worth my time to educate close friends and family who are trying to be a support system — it’s usually their first time with developmental delays, too, and the more support you and your child have, the better.
Educate, ignore, unfollow, block!
Celebrate the little wins
There have been countless days when I would watch my son interact with other kids, and I could just see such stark differences. He is wonderful and sweet and feisty, but I worry so much about his future. It is so easy to get lost in the big picture. Our speech therapist encouraged us to start writing down our little wins — this has helped a lot. The changes are small but they add up to big wins.
It’s okay to just be ‘Mom’ sometimes
I am a planner. If I have a problem, I am positive I can make plans and lists and work my way out of it. My first response to each new challenge is to make a detailed list of exercises to do and books to read and classes to sign him up for and on and on until I’m completely burnt out and my child just wants to be left alone to play. By himself. Without anyone asking him where his belly is.
It’s okay to not make every moment a learning opportunity. It’s okay to just be you, to be Mom or Dad. You need moments with your child where you are relaxed and enjoying them and all they are.
Please know that even as I write this advice and share it, I am nowhere near mastering it. I often feel like I’m starting every day at zero, building myself back up for the little wins, wondering what I could do differently or if I’m doing something wrong. I work every moment on having faith. I remind myself to be thankful for how blessed we are and how far we have come. I share this in hopes that something in here will resonate and help you, too.