First I want to tell you my story. To understand where we are now and why I feel Early Education is important, you have to understand where we came from. Note that when I am discussing Early Education it is focused on the Early Special Education for children with delays.
I knew my son was uniquely on his own developmental scale when he was between 1 and 2 years old. He had this uncanny way of being able to memorize whole scripts of Sesame Street, all of his books and anything else he loved, but he still hadn’t started initiating any sort of conversation. He never asked for anything, even if he were thirsty or hungry and never complained as most toddlers are wont to do.
I felt bad for a long time because I saw differences. He was a very well behaved and extremely happy child, so there were days I felt like a bad parent. But as the months went by I could see he wasn’t hitting milestones in the typical way. He was reaching what the doctors developmental questions were asking for in regards to how many words he could say, but those words weren’t stringing together the right way. It wasn’t exactly Echolalia, the immediate repetition of words, he wouldn’t immediately repeat what we said. Instead my tot would respond with answers we had given previously in other conversations verbatim to what he thought it fit. That’s how we began talking with my son and getting him to figure out how to ask for things or let us know if he wanted something. However, we still faced the biggest issue and the most difficult one as parents, we had no idea how he felt.
How many nights my husband and I would be hurt and argue because we had no idea what was wrong. He would be hurting, crying, frustrated, upset or even scared and we would have absolutely no idea why because he had no way of telling us. In return, we had no way of explaining to him our own feelings about things. We had this wall between us and we wanted so badly to get past it.
A new thing started to develop as he grew older, he started getting mad. This typical happy child was beginning to feel the frustrations of no one understanding him at times and without understanding why we were getting upset at his fits, we would all wind up frustrated, upset or at our wits end. He was 3 and this is the part in the story when we happen to walk down the street from our new home one day and wander into an Early Education building.
Some might call “Early Intervention”, but they begin in special classrooms dedicated to children with developmental delays. Walking into the Early Education Building that afternoon, I knew I was in the right place at the right time and everything fell perfectly into place. I had wrote about that day in a previous post called The Promise of Early Education.
It has been a year since he first started Early Education and it is mind blowing how far he has come. He has since learned to be able to say if he feels yucky and with some prompting can let us know what is bothering him. We’re able to explain and get him to understand if he does something wrong, hurts someone or if he got himself in trouble. He is even able to let us know a little bit about his day and answer simple Wh questions (what, where, why, when).
He’s also begun initiating conversation and play with other children, though he may ask for our help from time to time. He can let us know what he likes or doesn’t like, be able to make different choices without being overwhelmed by options and he had learned to say “I love you” all by himself. I almost cried the first time I heard him say “I love you Mommy” without me asking him to say it.
What are Developmental Delays?
Developmental Delays exist in one or more areas: Language or Speech, Movement or Motor Skills, Emotional and Social Skills, Thinking and Cognitive Skills.
- Speech and Language is the most common in children. Speech is specifically the way words are formed and Language covers the receiving, understanding and the system of expressing that speech.
- Movement and Motor Skill Delays can cause unclear speech or the lack of understanding can offset the lack of learning how to do simple things and initiate independence. They can also cover areas of actual movement and sensory integration issues (a more serious delay in this area).
- Social and Emotional Delays deals with interaction with other people, children or adults. A child with these delays may show no interest in other children, not make eye contact with others, have issues separating from their parents or doesn’t show emotions.
- Thinking and Cognitive skills are the understanding of simple instructions, thinking forward, showing interest in what things are, playing or being able to imagine or “pretend”.
What I learned through having a child with almost all of these delays is that they are all pretty much linked to the first, Speech and Language. If a child does not understand language or what is being asked of them, they have a difficult time being able to have the cognitive understanding of simple instructions, the ability to understand what is being asked to tune their motor skills and obviously have delays in social skills because they cannot communicate properly. Our teachers were very apt to let us know that even though my son needed special education in all of these areas to meet his IEP, it was mainly because of the fact that he first had to learn to understand communication.
What is an IEP (Independent Education Plan):
An IEP is an Individual Education Plan that is tailored specifically for your child. Each area of development is given simple goals that the teachers work towards as well as what they are trying to achieve overall. In example, my tot’s original goals in physical therapy was to be able throw and catch a ball and climb. Many times these activities are taught naturally on the playground with other kids so that he can be motivated with his peers. Once he attained those goals, they added more reachable ones such as: riding a tricycle and hoping on one foot.
Your child’s IEP will be modified as they work on their goals and for some children, they will be carried with them into Kindergarten and so on. The parents sit with the teachers at periods during the school year to adjust the goals together. Parental support throughout the entire process is not only recommended, but necessary.
Does Having Developmental Delays Mean Your Child Has Autism?
The answer is not exactly. Some children grow out of developmental delays, some will have them growing up but that is no different than you or I not being good at one thing or another and yes – there are some who are on the autistic spectrum or have other disabilities. Each child is different, they learn and grasp things differently and Early Education provides them with an individualized plan that caters to those unique qualities of your children.
Where can you find an Early Education Program?
The best thing to do is to call your school district. Most Early Education programs are ran through the school district and are free if your child meets the special education requirements, however, there are many other early intervention/education programs that may be run through local churches, private school programs, hospitals, recreation facilities, etc.
In the past month I have met families who were each struggling with similarities in their toddlers and in watching Judah it had given them some form of strength in knowing that there are programs out there to help breach that difficult barrier into communication. Without ever knowing it, my son had uplifted heavy hearts that I remembered all to well was my own once. He may be a little behind in some areas of understanding, but he is full on ahead in being a remarkable person that others look up to.
Our children are not their delays or disabilities, these are small details in the makeup of their individualism. What Early Education and Intervention does is get past those walls (in our children and ourselves) to bring out the amazing people they will one day become.
Many thanks and so much love to the teachers, the Early Education program and the children who have taken it into their hearts to help my son every day at school (most of whom have their own IEPs). I cannot explain to you the overwhelming joy we each feel in seeing the smiles on his friends faces to see him each morning, how they hold his hand and help him when he is stuck and the excitement he exudes every day upon seeing his teachers and learning something new. Even if the year is slowly coming to an end, I will never forget what you have given us.
I am not a doctor, a teacher or professional. I am a Mother with a child diagnosed with Developmental Delays, this is written from experience.