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Recognizing Special Needs

Dear Debi,
My 2-year-old daughter doesn’t speak. She only babbles and says “Mama” or “Barney.” Because of this, I think she might be developing slower than other kids her age. Her doctor says this is normal, but I feel something’s wrong. What can I do to find out for sure?
Edna Paz , Mother of a 2-year-old
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Observe your child
  • Early intervention is essential
  • Services are usually available through regional centers or local school districts
Expert Advice
Dr. Leslie Richard
Dr. Leslie Richard
Pediatrician, mother of four
The more knowledge you have about typical child development, the better you are able to judge your own child’s development. That doesn’t mean raise a child by a book, but it helps to have an idea about the normal range of development for a child. Educate yourself about what’s expected for a child at such an age. Be careful with books. Use them as a general template, but look at the qualitative component of how they do these milestones. Parents need to be aware of how their children react to other individuals and the world. Get a sense if your child is interacting in the world as their peers do. Become an observer of your child. Keep a balance of healthy appreciation of what’s normal, and note things that are more concerning.

If you suspect that your child has a developmental delay, go first to your pediatrician. If your doctor doesn’t thoroughly address the concern by using a developmental screening tool or referring you to a developmental specialist, you can take one of two approaches.

The first approach is to wait with a plan. For instance, if your pediatrician says he or she is not worried about your child’s speech, then make an appointment to re-check the condition in a month or two. Sometimes parents are reluctant to ask doctors for what they need. Know that you can ask for a referral to see a specialist. Also request additional developmental information from the doctor, whether that’s pamphlets, books, or more thorough discussion with your pediatrician. When you visit the doctor, be specific about your concern. Don’t just say, “I think there’s something wrong.” Instead say “I’m concerned about my child because he only says three words, he gets upset when we change activities, he won’t look me in the eye” and so on.

If you don’t get a referral and still have a concern, the other approach you can take is to refer yourself to an early intervention service such as a Regional Center. Regional Centers are based on geographical location. There are 21 centers throughout the state – seven in LA County. A parent can simply call and tell the intake person what the problem is. They’ll do an assessment and if there really is a speech and language delay, they can offer services to help. There is no out-of-pocket cost for these services.

A developmental delay is sort of a catchall phrase that includes a delay in an area of development, meaning a child is not on target with a specific developmental skill or task. It can be one of development or global, which means many areas of development.

There are some developmental delays where children are on a continuum where they’re a little behind and with some intervention, they can catch up. However, the difficulty with this concept is that all children who end up with a diagnosable developmental disability started out with a developmental delay in some area. In general, at any given time, a developmental delay can be one a child outgrows, or it could be the beginning of a red flag that says something’s not right.

There are other things associated with speech and language delays. If the child seems not to understand things, there may be other assessments needed, such as developmental evaluations which examine five different areas of development: gross motor, fine motor, speech and language, social/emotional, and cognitive. We can then guide therapy and intervention toward the concerned areas.
Child Care provider Comments
Mark Woodsmall
Mark Woodsmall
Father of two
Our son was diagnosed with autism. At first, he was developing normally until he was about two years old. Then he had a massive reduction in loss of speech and began some seizure activity. In about a two-week span, our son lost most of his vocabulary of about 300 words.

Initially, we thought it was a cold or some other kind of disruption. After two weeks of this sudden change in our son’s development, though, we took our son to a pediatrician. A parent knows their child best so it’s important to follow your instincts when you sense something is wrong with your child. We pressed the issue and ultimately got a referral to a regional center.
Carri Bryant
Carri Bryant
Cares for her two great-grandchildren
When I first realized that my great granddaughter, Hayley, might have a developmental delay, I went to Hayley’s mother and said, “I think you should get the baby checked.” We noticed Hayley had severe delays in speaking and walking. She was almost a year and she wasn’t walking or talking.

Hayley’s mom took her to the doctor. They tested her and they found out that the baby had cerebral palsy. Hayley was 18 months when she started getting therapy to strengthen her legs and we put her in a special school for two hours a day. They taught her sign language for her basic needs and she started saying a word or two.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
I currently take care of a 3-and-a-half-year-old girl with speech and motor delays. I make it clear to her family that everybody needs to stay involved and educated for the common goal of the child. Make sure the child gets the therapy. If the parents are not available to take the child due to work schedules, the child care provider needs to be willing to go out of his or her way to ensure the child receives the required services.

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Topic: Special Needs
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