Have you noticed that child that seems different from the others? You may not be able to put your finger on why but they may not speak, process information, walk or crawl like their peers. They may seem a bit younger than their stated age. We often rely on the old saying that “children all develop differently and at their own pace”. Experts also tell parents “You shouldn’t compare your children with each other. They’re all different”. One famous psychologist suggested that each time a new child is born into a family it changes how the family functions, and how children develop.
However, as a psychologist working with children and families, I found the most difficult thing to share with parents was that their child had a developmental problem that might impact them for the rest of their lives. When the seriousness of the message sunk in, two questions would often be asked: How will this impact their lives? And, why didn’t anyone tell me something earlier?
Thankfully, there is a program called “Child Find” which is designed to help identify vulnerable children in our communities and provide services to families (at no cost). The child find teams are often composed of public health professionals, special educators, physicians, psychologists, speech pathologists, and educational administrators. The Federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts (who often work with public health departments and social service agencies) to search out and evaluate young children who might be in need of special education services.
Child find teams are designed to support families and provide services to children with impairments and delays. These children can be identified to the team by any community member. However, these referrals often come from day care workers, physicians, ministers, babysitters and family members. The referrals don’t have to be of a specific condition but often lead to the team contacting the parents and conducting a thorough developmental evaluation of the child.
The key task of the child find team is to identify the area and severity of the child’s difficulties as soon as possible. Problems can be biological, associated with birth defects, or sensory problems (hearing, vision, motor skills). For example, some babies do not turn when their name is called, or roll over or grasp for their mother’s hand. These are all possible signs of sensory problems. One parent found that her son had a disability when her one-year-old child was more mobile and played with toys more than her 3-year-old son. Through the work of the child find teams many children with disabilities ranging from Autism to heart disease, have been identified and provided supportive services.
The importance of the child find team cannot be underestimated. Educators and medical professionals have found that early intervention has dramatic impacts on the lives of children. Some children with early delays are able to improve and perform at the level of same-aged peers by the time they reach elementary school. Other children learn ways of functioning that compensate for the deficits (for example sign language for hearing impaired children).
Consequently, if you know of an infant or child who may be experiencing some developmental or functional problems. Find a sensitive way to speak to the parents and then make a referral to a child find team at the nearest school system.
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[This information is provided for informational purposes. Each state has slightly different rules and therefore presented information is based on general special education and federal laws. This should not be considered as a provision of specific legal advice.]