It can be scary to realize that your toddler is not hitting the usual developmental milestones, when you realize that your child is not speaking or using skills that are typical of children of the same age. While children do develop at different rates, it is important to get professional help if you believe there is a serious issue. Certainly, the first step is to consult a pediatrician for a preliminary evaluation, but not all pediatricians can make a firm diagnosis for complex disorders, such as autism. In those cases, parents are directed to a childhood development specialist, but such specialists are few and far between, and new-patient waiting lists can be months, even years, long. Given that early intervention is one of the best ways to alleviate the effects of autism and other developmental disorders, the sooner therapeutic intervention can begin, the better are the long-term prospects for the child.
While seeking expert care, one thing that concerned parents can do is contact the school district, even if the child in question is younger than school age. The school will send out a team to evaluate the child and decide if the child needs early intervention and what type of intervention would be appropriate. In the case of my own family, the school district was the first to respond to our concerns about one of our children. My husband and I have triplet sons, and as the boys reached toddlerhood, it was clear that one of them, Evren, was not developing like the other two. Evren didn’t speak when the others learned to, he seemed obsessed with strange activities and played by himself, while the other two chattered and laughed and socialized happily with everyone. When he was two, we took Evren to a pediatrician who referred us on to a developmental psychologist, whose waiting list was several months long.
We also called the Bethlehem school district. In short order, two evaluators came to our house and assessed Evren, noting his developmental delays and referring him for early intervention in the BASD. Until he was three, Evren was visited by a BASD therapist in the home. Once he turned three, he entered Mullen Hall, the special education preschool for developmentally delayed children, including other children who were diagnosed with autism, as Evren eventually was. At Mullen Hall, Evren was provided therapy for speech, socialization, and other important aspects of childhood development. Once he entered grade school, he was placed in autism support classrooms from kindergarten to high school. Even as we built up Evren’s care network to include medical specialists, wrap-around services, home health care, and other services, we could always count on Evren attending the autism support classrooms, where he received daily education and therapy. The school district also provides support classrooms for children with other types of disabilities, as well as mainstreamed learning support for students who need a little extra guidance in the regular education classrooms.
I know most people do not think of the school districts as frontline resources for dealing with early childhood developmental problems. But a primary mandate of the public schools like BASD is to educate all children, including those who require extra support and specialized care.
BASD Special Education Department Telephone: 610-868-8268 Website: https://www.beth.k12.pa.us/Academics/SpecialEducation/contact.lasso