It’s estimated that one in six children in the United States has a developmental disorder such as autism, attention deficit disorder, or speech and language difficulties. Child development experts advise parents who notice unusual behaviors, delays, or other health-related issues to seek prompt assistance. Yet because of a shortage of specialists, families often face long delays.
Long wait times common
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, long wait times are common. As many parents already know, more than half of the specialized developmental pediatric programs associated with children’s hospitals have an average wait time of five-and-a-half months.
In addition, a recent Rutgers study revealed that Spanish speaking families may have to wait even longer. Dr. Manuel Jimenez, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Family Medicine and Community Health at Rutgers Medical School, led the study. “Our study serves as a reminder to physicians to be mindful of the difficulty our patients experience to obtain an initial assessment including an extended waiting period and barriers to language services,” he says.
The study also stresses that more work is needed to provide better access to all children who are in need of specialized services, as developmental and behavioral problems are among the most common health issues among children. Unfortunately, when access to treatment is delayed, particularly with babies and younger children, little ones in need of specialized assistance may experience further developmental delays.
Local early intervention assistance
Fortunately, Toledo area parents are one phone call away from free intervention services provided through the Lucas County Early Childhood Development program. Early Intervention provides services to infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays and their families. Early Head Start is a comprehensive program for pregnant women, infants, toddlers, and their families. Help Me Grow provides support to first-time mothers of infants under 6-months-old and expectant mothers through a home-visiting program.
Kristi Hannan, Associate Director of Early Childhood with the Lucas County Family Council, says that while there are waiting lists for some speech therapy providers locally, there is never a waiting list for early intervention. “For parents with children under three who have speech concerns, there are a range of approaches that can help,” she says. “They include services by a Developmental Specialist, playgroups, and more. Early Intervention service coordinators can help parents with these types of services, providers, and funding sources.”
Best of all, the wait time is relatively short. “Services must begin within 30 days of being added to an Individualized Family Service Plan,” Ms. Hannan explains. “And there is no cost to eligible families including service coordination, evaluation and assessment, and help with transition to preschool.”
It’s vital that parents educate themselves so they can be a better advocate for their child. Libraries, medical professionals, and special needs websites can provide a wealth of information. Joining a support group for parents of children with special needs can be particularly helpful. When parents are able to speak with medical specialists, it’s important that they have confidence in their instincts about what’s right for their child.
Above all, parents should continue to ask for help from friends and family members. The sooner they are able to establish a healthy support system, the stronger they will be when navigating the often uncharted waters of the waiting game.