Every special needs family has their own unique testimony of the moment they found out their child was different. For many it takes place in the doctor’s office, for others it might be at playgroup or nursery when they sat down for a parent-teacher conference. No matter how it happens, there is no easy way to hear that your child may have a disability.
For many families, this struggle is akin to the Five Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Many families of special needs children get stuck in denial for too long, hesitating to see if their child will “grow out of it” because they are too overwhelmed to process the shock.
If you think your child may have a problem, your first step is being honest with yourself. Listen to the gut instinct that is telling you that something doesn’t feel right or seems off. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. If you suspect something, don’t wait, don’t hesitate and don’t deny your instincts: see your paediatrician and discuss your concerns. Well-trained professionals know to be gentle and provide actionable steps to help parents navigate their new reality.
Early intervention is the most powerful tool you have to make a positive change for your child and one of the most important steps you can take on your new journey. Learning your child has special needs is not the end of the world, it is simply a different path forward.
A path to assistance
If you are concerned that your child is not reaching their developmental milestones, here is what you can do:
Observe and take notes
- As their parent, you have already been doing this, but take notes of the things that concern you. Keep a journal to write down observations and take photos and videos of questionable behaviour to share with your doctor.
Meet with their teachers
- Arrange a meeting with their teachers or caretakers to discuss your concerns. Make note of any other behaviours they mention or highlight.
Consult their doctor
- Schedule an appointment with your child’s physician. Explain your concerns and ask for recommendations for a developmental screening. Also, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if it will put you at ease.
Get an evaluation
- Arrange a consultation at one of the local special needs centers (see our directory). They will be able to assist you in finding the proper support and help form a plan for your child’s developmental progress.
All children develop at their own speed, however, if you notice that your three to five-year-old is consistently missing the milestones below, it may be time to talk to their doctor.
Social and emotional development
- Does your child copy adults and peers?
- Does your child take turns?
- Do they separate easily from mother and father?
- Does your child show a wide range of emotions?
- Can they dress and undress themselves?
- Does your child show unusual levels of aggression?
- Does your child show affection for peers without prompting?
- Does your child make eye contact with adults and peers?
- Did your child start crawling and walking late?
- Did your child stop doing an activity? For instance, did they start walking and then go back to crawling?
- Can your child walk and run? Does he or she seem unsteady or waddle?
- Can your child crawl or walk up and down stairs unassisted?
- Can your child pedal on a tricycle?
- Can your child hold a crayon with a pencil grip?
- Does your child follow two- or three-step instructions?
- Can your child name familiar things?
- Can your child solve a puzzle with three or four pieces?
- Does your child play make-believe with dolls, animals or people?
- Can your child speak in full sentences?
- Can they say their first name, age and gender?
Information compiled from the US Center for Disease Control