BY JULIE GARSTECKI, SUPERVISOR AT SUNY FREDONIA
If you are a new parent, you have probably looked to see if your new baby’s chest was moving up and down while they slept, just to “be sure”. Books and magazines are dedicated to checklists for parents to study as their baby grows. When you see billboards advertising that 1 in 110 children will be born with autism, it’s impossible not to worry. As a new parent, what can you do? What should you do? With the help of Easter Seals and Autism Speaks, the following information will help you navigate your way through the worries of early parenthood.
First, realize children do develop at their own rate. Guidelines are simply that-guidelines. Spend time cuddling, cooing, and talking with your new baby. Sing, nuzzle, describe what you are doing as you get those wiggly limbs into a new outfit. As you begin to have concerns, write them down so you can bring them to the pediatrician’s office. Be sure to include the babies age, what you noticed, and why you are concerned. Parents need to trust their instincts. Do not be afraid to ask questions, and if you feel you are not being heard by your doctor, calmly let them know why you are feeling so concerned. Be open to what the pediatrician has to say, but consider changing your pediatrician if you are not feeling respected.
Autismspeaks.org suggests taking note of the following milestones:
3-4 Months: Your baby should watch your face with interest, and follow moving objects. A social smile should be developing, and s/he should turn their head towards a moving sound.
7 Months: Your baby should be engaging in face to face play, explore with their hands and mouth, and struggle for out of reach objects. They should respond to their name when you say it.
12 Months: Your baby should be imitating people, enjoy simple social games (such as peek a boo), and turn to see who or what is making noise in a room.
For a more complete list, you can visit autismspeaks.org or EasterSeals.com
If you notice your child missing these milestones, you
need to notify your pediatrician. During your babies well visit go over the notes you have taken, and be thorough in your questions. It may also help to take notes during these visits. The doctor may discuss meeting with an Early Intervention Specialist, and will provide you with information necessary for contacting one. As scary as this may sound, it is important to recognize that this is a positive step. Early Intervention is key for your child’s success. Research has proven time and time again that the earlier you detect a developmental delay in your child, the more likely your child will not require special services later, or possibly reduce the amount needed.
During this process, you will probably meet with Audiologists to screen for hearing loss, a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist to look at fine and gross motor skills (ability to grab objects or crawl are examples). It can be an emotional process, and it is stressful. If your baby is very young, the therapist(s) may tell you to “look for” certain things, and unfortunately there may not be a quick or simple answer. Though an answer is hard to wait for, it is important that the therapist or therapy team look at the big picture. Depending on the diagnosis, therapy can be very specific, and it is crucial that the correct issue be treated. Keeping a baby log of milestones reached at certain ages and significant events is very important, not only because it’s fun to look back and reflect on all of the changes that happen so quickly, but also because this information can help the therapy team make decisions about your child.
It is important to remember that during this process, you focus on remaining positive, and stay committed to building a loving bond with your baby. If there eventually is a diagnosis of any kind, the label your child acquires does not define your child, nor does it change your child. It is simply a name used to determine the therapy your child will receive. Find a support system, do the work that comes with therapy, but most importantly, find the joy of parenting your child. I never would have believed my son and I could have a “normal” conversation, but after hours and years of therapy, I noticed just last week I asked him to be quiet. As soon as the words escaped my lips, I started laughing and ran to hug him. I never take a word from his mouth for granted. It was one of many times I quietly thanked his Early Intervention team.
For more information on special needs and your young child, visit www.Easterseals.com or www.Autismspeaks.org.
Julia lives in Bemus Point with her husband and two children. She is grateful for the team of therapists who worked with her son, who sometimes talks too much now!