No parent wants to hear that anyone, especially their own family member, thinks that their child might be developmentally delayed. So how do you tactfully approach this subject if you have legitimate concerns about a child’s development and that child just happens to be a grandson, niece or cousin?
As uncomfortable as it might be at first, it is crucial that the issue does get raised in order for the child to get evaluated in a timely manner and begin to receive services as soon as possible. Remember, early intervention services are available starting at birth. It is also important to note that any child with a specific qualifying diagnosis (such as Down syndrome, hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, failure to thrive, torticollis, etc) is automatically eligible for services and should have been referred to early intervention from the hospital or by the pediatrician who made the diagnosis.
But what if your concerns are more subtle? My granddaughter isn’t playing with her toys appropriately, my cousin’s son is having difficulty transitioning from baby foods to table foods or my nephew still isn’t using words to communicate at age two?
There is still a stigma in our society related to developmental delays. There is also a fear of a child being labeled. There is also a range of “typical” development, meaning while many new parents hear that babies walk at 12 months, babies may walk anywhere between 9-18 months and still be within average. Many parents these days are also very concerned about their children having autism, and let’s face it, hearing that your child may be developmentally delayed or that something may be “wrong” with your child is very scary! So the way in which you approach your family members with your concerns is of utmost importance.
What Can You Do To Help?
- Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, have some empathy. Be gentle and begin your conversation in a positive way. Try your best to focus on the child’s strengths and then slowly begin to address the child’s needs, all the while remaining positive.
- Explain that early intervention is a free service. Early Intervention does not diagnose a child and we use a family friendly play based approach, not a clinical medical approach with the aim of teaching the parent ways to help their child during daily routines so their child can “catch up” before the age of three.
- Ask open ended questions to begin your conversation, such as “How do you feel Kyle is doing with communicating his wants and needs to you?” or make friendly observations such as “It seems like you’re becoming increasingly frustrated by Emily’s inability to communicate with you”, or “How do you feel Brian is doing with managing table foods at mealtimes, I notice when he eats for me that he seems to be gagging and choking sometimes…”.
- Find a time to open your discussion when the parent is not busy or otherwise occupied so they can focus on what you have to say. Perhaps schedule a lunch date or take a walk when the child is not present.
- Be supportive, listen to their concerns and let them know that you’ll be there to help and offer to go to a pediatrician visit or help them to call early intervention or be present at the child’s evaluation once it is scheduled.
- Use developmental milestone charts as a guide to demonstrate when certain skills typically occur and express why you are concerned about a particular area or skill.
- Focus on identifying concrete concerns that you have seen, such as “It worries me that Sam does not make eye contact when I speak to him” or “I am concerned about Anna’s safety since she is not yet walking on her own.”
- Stay positive and encouraging.
- Affirm their fears and their own concerns.
- If you know of another child or family member whose child received early intervention services in the past you can make comments such as “Your cousin Sue’s son had speech therapy when he was around two years old and he really made wonderful progress, it might help to speak with her.”
- Let them know that an early intervention evaluation can rule out concerns or get their child the early help they need to catch up if a delay determined.
- Allow a few weeks for them to process or absorb what you said to them, but do check back in a short period of time if they have not made any attempts at contacting their pediatrician or early intervention.
- Remind them that early intervention services are provided free of charge in their own home and the therapists work around your own daily schedules and family routines-nothing could be made easier when it comes to helping your child!
- Encourage them to call a provider such as TEIS before scheduling an evaluation so they can ask questions about services and allay any fears they might have.
What NOT to do:
- Do not judge them or blame them. Do not make the parent feel as if their child’s developmental delay may be their fault.
- Don’t use your own labels, such as saying “I think he might be autistic” or “I bet he’s a slow learner.”
- Do not use comparison by saying things such as “The neighbor boy is two and he is using 2 word sentences, Timmy only has 3 words!” or “Your husband had speech problem as a kid, so maybe that’s what’s wrong with Kristie too.”
- Do not force or coerce them to seek an early intervention evaluation. It is a voluntary program and parents who have been coerced into EI without accepting that their child may need developmental help do not typically follow through anyway. EI is a parent training program where parent involvement is imperative for success.
If you have a family member or friend whose child you think may qualify for early intervention services, encourage them to call 412-271-TEIS (8347) with questions and we will be happy to help them through the process of setting up an evaluation. If they are not comfortable with a phone call they can visit our website and ask questions online either via a live chat or through an online web form.