Around the time my son started verbalizing, he developed some, for lack of a better word, verbal "oddities." At the advice of the doctor we watched and waited. Ignoring the advice of the doctor, I worried. At 18 months, I made a special appointment just to talk about this particular "problem," as it was becoming increasingly noticeable. (For those of you that are seeking a similar appointment, consider the last appointment of the day, as the doctor isn't rushed. We had the luxury of a good 30 minutes with the doctor).
I was pretty sure these oddities, were just that and not a sign of something more serious. My first was a late talker who quickly surpassed his peers, so I was use to a "range of development." But this was just so...odd. The awareness of developmental disorders is a blessing and a curse. More kids get help sooner, but more moms freak out when their child doesn't follow the book to the letter. My pediatrician concurred that everything was likely normal, but he hadn't ever seen a child with something similar. So we got a referral to a neurologist. Knowing that I would likely wait for months for an appointment (Don't worry, we managed to get in within 2 weeks at both Tufts and Children's. I think this is typically the norm.), I also made a call to Early Intervention (EI).
Early Intervention is a wonderful program run by the state. From the words of their website: Early Intervention is an integrated, developmental service available to families of children between birth and three years of age. Children may be eligible for EI if they have developmental difficulties due to identified disabilities, or if typical development is at risk due to certain birth or environmental circumstances.
Eligibility for Early Intervention is determined in several different ways. If your child was born before 32 weeks, had a NICU admission of more than 5 days, or has one of many other characteristics, you may "automatically" be eligible. In our case, I self referred, using an online form from the company that provides services in my area (your "center" is determined by your location; see this list). Doctors and caregivers can also refer. Within the week, we had an "intake interview" during which we went over my concerns. A week later, a group of people came to do the evaluation. My son qualified for 6 months of services which started a week or so after the initial evaluation.
For the last 6 months, a wonderful developmental specialist has come to my house to work with my son. During this one hour, my son gets someone's complete attention (yes, if I was a good mother, I'd be giving him this!!). They do puzzles, crafts, play games - things that encourage him to talk. Each week, she provides us one or two very specific things to work on. This was the most helpful for me - a clear path to help my son communicate. For instance, he was good at saying food words, but that was it. So she taught him the sign for "more" and encouraged him to combine a food word with the "more" sign. It was his first "two word combo" and by the end of the week, he realized it was easier to drop the sign and just say "more cracker." Everyone asked me if I thought he got there "on his own" or if I thought "EI did it." Honestly, I don't know, but I don't doubt for a second that EI was time well spent. (We managed to see the neurologist shortly before we started services, and he assured us the "oddities" were just that - odd - but not at all concerning.)
We also took advantage of the playgroups, which I would highly recommend. Once a week, for three hours, the kids played, sang songs, worked on crafts, etc. The schedule was the same each week, with specific songs sung at each transition, to ease the children into a routine. The playgroup had a range of abilities - some like my son that were just a little delayed and some children with major delays in every areas - and it was a good early lesson about "everyone is different."
As our services come to an end, I'm sad. Our provider is like a member of our family! And she has been so instrumental in this whirlwind of development. If you, like me, get to the point where you're watching everything your child does like a hawk and wondering "is this normal," call Early Intervention. There is no harm in just having an evaluation. And even your child doesn't qualify, they may give you some advice or information to ease your worries. If your child's delay isn't great enough to qualify, they can point you in the direction of other local services or give you things to work on at home. These services exist for our benefit, so don't for a minute hesitate. Fees are minimal, especially considering the wealth of opportunities available (and you only pay a fee if you qualify for services). Early Intervention isn't something to be embarrassed about, it's something you can do at a young age to put your child on a path to success.