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Secrets to parenting a child with developmental delays

Raising a child with special needs comes with a double dose of self-doubt, but empowering yourself with parenting tips geared towards your child’s developmental delays can help you kick that uncertainty to the curb.

Girl with developmental delays

From seeking early intervention to working with your child through play, uncover the secrets to parenting a child with developmental delays.

Seek early intervention

One of the most important ways to help your child with special needs is to obtain early intervention. During your child’s visit to the pediatrician, doctors and nurses use milestone checklists that help them screen for developmental delays. The sooner your child is seen for developmental screening and evaluation by a developmental psychologist, developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist, the easier it will be for your child to catch up — and alleviate a lot of frustration for both your child and yourself.

Get involved

In order for your youngster to receive the services he needs, being your child’s best advocate is a must. Allison Kawa, Psy.D., clinical psychologist, explains that, “Parents should find someone they trust who can give them a bird’s eye view of their child’s strengths and weaknesses to help prioritize a treatment plan. An expert in the field, such as a developmental pediatrician, developmental psychologist, or caseworker, can give parents the guidance they need to navigate the beginning of a child’s program, especially at a time when parents are feeling vulnerable and confused.”

Find out why there are no more IEP meetings without parents involved >> 

Be patient with the process

Parenting a child with special needs can be frustrating, but setting realistic expectations will give your kiddo the confidence he needs to make progress. “Children with developmental delays are children first. When it comes to discipline, the methods that parents employ for ‘typical’ children are the same techniques they should use for disciplining their special needs children,” advises Faith Golden, M.A., of It’s Aparent Parenting. “The only difference is that when teaching children (this is what discipline is) parents need to be aware that their expectations are age-appropriate, and fit the child’s capabilities. For example, a 12-year-old special needs child, with the developmental age and skill level of a 5-year-old, should have the same expectations from the parents as a ‘typical’ 5-year-old.”

Get siblings involved

In a family with more than one child, the extra attention a child with special needs requires can leave siblings feeling a little ignored. However, clueing siblings in on the needs your child with developmental delays has may help curb resentment and foster support. Dr. Rick Solomon, M.D., developmental pediatrician and medical director of the Ann Arbor Center for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics states that, “At the age of 5 to 6 years old, children can begin to understand that their sibling is different from them. Therefore, it’s a good time to open the discussion.”

Work together though play

Occupational therapy (OT) is a major component of progress for kids with developmental delay, but it doesn’t have to mean OT time is sterile and boring. “Play with a child with special needs is still play — so keep it fun, lighthearted and upbeat, even though the purpose may be therapeutic,” recommends child development expert and autism specialist Shirael Pollack, MSPT, of Watch Me Grow. “Forced or contrived play will be counterproductive.” Tossing a ball, digging through sensory boxes, playing Twister and even pushing buttons through slots in a butter container all disguise therapy with fun.

Learn how to create a fall sensory box >>

“Parenting a child with special needs requires that the parent have support not only from family but professionals as well,” advises Golden. While parenting a child with developmental delays can be demanding, keeping yourself open to the resources available can help alleviate the questions and frustrations that come along with the territory and give you the ability to focus on your child’s needs.

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