Here’s an excerpt about meeting milestones from the soon to be released book “My Special Needs Child: Parenting, Advocating, and Finding Strength”.
People develop in individual stages; however, understanding general guidelines for meeting milestones can help families obtain early intervention services for disabilities that can respond and improve. I waited 10 years between my two children, so when my second son was born I had forgotten when meeting milestones were predicted to occur. I was completing my master’s degree in education when I had my second son and because we were reviewing the typical developmental stages I realized my son was experiencing a speech delay that was beginning to pass beyond the late stage.
This chart,* which is based on the Robert Havighurst Developmental Tasks Theory, can be helpful for you as you learn about your child and if s/he is meeting milestones. This knowledge can help you decide whether it’s time to reach out to professionals who can provide services to begin the process for helping you and your child be as independent as possible.
Meeting milestones beginning at birth to 3 months
- Begin to smile and visually track people and objects with my eyes.
- Prefer to look at faces and bright colors.
- Gurgle and coo. Listen to the sounds I make.
- Start to reach for and discover my hands and feet.
- Can lift my head when I’m on my tummy.
- Cry over everything, but I feel better when you hold and comfort me.
4-6 months, social awareness begins to emerge
- Smile and laugh, and imitate sounds I hear.
- Am learning about my body, exploring my hands and feet. I think they are a part of me!
- Can sit up when you prop me up, like sitting on the couch or an easy chair.
- Like to roll over, scoot, and bounce.
- I can grasp things without using my thumb. I love to put things in my mouth, so keep small objects away from my reach.
7-12 months—developing movement and independence
- Think I’m a big kid now. I want to take my first steps, so please hold my hand.
- Love children’s songs, so sing to me or play them so I can move and dance.
- Play pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo, and wave goodbye.
- Understand my name and other words you use a lot.
- Say my first words. They may not sound like much, but I’m starting to vocalize more.
- Like to explore and bang and shake objects.
- Can find hidden toys and I can put things in containers.
- Can sit up all by myself.
- Creep around and can pull myself up to stand and try to walk. I just love being in motion and will go anywhere I can.
One to 2 years, language is beginning to develop, including responding to facial cues
- Talk a little and understand words and ideas.
- Love stories, pretend games, and riding toys.
- Can walk, climb stairs and run.
- Like to scribble and read books; I know more than 50 words.
- Use a spoon and fork — well, kind of. I may still need some help — and I like to help around the house.
- Am proud of the things I can do and can solve simple problems.
- Have some friends and am starting to play make believe.
2- 3 ½ years Exploring and taking risks
- Like to learn new things.
- Am increasing my vocabulary regularly now. I repeat words you say or that I hear on TV.
- Run everywhere, because I love to be on the go, go, go!
- Brush my teeth (with help), and wash my hands and face.
- Get frustrated easily.
- Act more independent now, but I still depend on you.
- Can draw a circle, name a color, and put on my shirt. Usually backwards.
3 ½ to 5 years–Personality emerges and social circles develop
- Have a longer attention span.
- Act silly, boisterous and might use language that isn’t nice.
- Ask lots of questions. Did you know I ask a lot of questions? How many questions do you think I ask? Do you worry that I’ll never stop asking questions? Why are you crying?
- Like to play with friends, but I don’t like to lose.
- Am okay sharing my stuff and taking turns — SOMETIMES. I’m still learning what sharing means, and that it’s important to do.
5-8 years–Ordinary personal needs can be completed independently, developing confidence in learning new skills
- Am curious about people and how the world works. I start putting together pieces of knowledge and begin to understand concepts.
- Am interested in numbers, letters, reading, and writing. This is a great time to get me to read on my own.
- Have more confidence in my physical skills.
- Use my words to express my feelings and to cope. I might cry on occasion, but that’s not my response to every problem like it was when I was two.
- Like grown-up activities. I still play, but I also play at being a grown-up.
- Like to meet and play with more kids and I play more cooperatively now.
Early Childhood Intervention Services
From birth to the age 21, you will have the benefit of the public-school system to assist you in accessing resources for your child if s/he is not meeting milestones. Many of the resources will be available at the school; others will be accessed through your health insurance. Funding for in-school services is provided through Medicaid and you will sign off on documents that refer to them as “your entitlements.” Keep this language from bothering you as you are entitled to support from the community as it relates to taking care of a child with special needs. “It takes a village to raise a child” has never been more true than when you have a child with special needs.
If you realize your child is experiencing a delay in any of the milestones, you can obtain resources through your community’s early childhood intervention services. You can find a list of services by state through Child Care Aware of America, a non-profit group which advocates for best practice child care services. Should your family physician dismiss your concerns that your child is only “late” in developing speech or gross or fine motor skills” beginning a relationship with professionals in education can assist you in knowing when it’s time to obtain services. During a child find assessment appointment, your child will be screened for vision, hearing, speech, and gross and fine motor skills development. These assessments will be conducted by health professionals, such as an audiologist, speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, registered nurse.
Some school districts partner with organizations like the Lions Club International whose members emphasize service as a core value of their group. Lions Club International’s focus is in preventing and treating blindness and other vision concerns. Read another post about vision disabilities, here. They also offer free glasses to people who cannot afford them through their recycled eyeglass program.
If a child has a disability that is less obvious or takes time to reveal itself, such as autism, you will be on one track for obtaining care for your child. A child without a disability will only receive medical services through a pediatrician or your family physician until s/he is of preschool age. A child with a disability needs intervention services as soon as the disability is diagnosed. Early intervention is key to improvement. Depending on the astuteness of your family physician, you may be told “don’t worry about it, your child is a late bloomer” and dismiss your concerns. If you do not receive a medical diagnosis of a specific disability then your health insurance will not cover the costs of services such as speech or occupational therapy. Some doctors are resistant to a family’s intuition that “something is not quite right” because of their egos or lack of knowledge. They may dismiss your concerns as being overprotective, nervous or helicopter parents. And if that’s the case and you are in a location where choice of medical providers isn’t available, then the early childhood intervention services will be the parallel track you will want to jump on immediately.
Child Find is a federal legal requirement placed on all public-school districts to locate children with disabilities beginning at birth and until the age 21, when public education services end. At any time during these years, any adult who has knowledge or even suspects a minor may have a disability can reach out to the special education services and request they evaluate a child.
Each school district is required to consider the request for evaluation and then proceed forward based on an initial evaluation. Some districts will deny the requests if they are not interested in spending the funds for what evaluation services cost. If you run into this challenge, then you have the ability to have your request go through an appeal process at which a neutral third party will decide the needs for further evaluation, based on supporting information provided by a parent and the school.
As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school districts must make a good faith effort to locate every child up to the age of 21 to determine if that child needs services to overcome or adapt to physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities. Even if you choose to send your child to a private school or home school you are granted the right to obtain special education evaluation through the public-school district. Child Find also has the expectation that school districts will conduct due diligence in locating children in homeless families or migrant worker families.
Meeting milestones across the lifespan
Just as you are attentive to the developmental milestones of your child, it’s good to be aware of the impact having a child with special needs could have on your development across the lifespan.
In the same vein that the chart above depicts the milestones of a child, Robert Havighurst expanded it to include development across the lifespan. Some milestones that could be affected by your special needs child include:
Middle Age – 36 – 60 years
- Maintaining economic standard of living
- Performing civic and social responsibilities
- Relating to spouse as a person
- Adjusting to physiological changes
Later Maturity – over 60 years
- Adjusting to deteriorating health and physical strength
- Adjusting to retirement
- Meeting social and civil obligations
- Adjusting to death or loss of spouse
As Kerry Magro, a self-advocate for the autism community states it: “Every parent plans to raise their child for about 18 years, set them free for about 30 years and then hope they come back to help them face the final years of their own life. Magro has written several books (an affiliate link) about his autism journey.
A special needs parent can sometimes plan to raise their child for 65 years and while doing so also has to prepare for the other 20 or so after they themselves are gone…let that sink in for just a moment and you will begin to understand the drive and determination that many of us have while here on earth.”
Your special needs child will govern decisions you make as it relates to planning for your retirement AND for your child’s care after you are gone.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Caregiver Stress
“You either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.” Josh Shipp
“You are never going to be happy with what you get unless you are happy with what you have.” Claire Wineland (advocate for people with disabilities.)
As a parent of a special needs child, your ability and capacity to take your circumstances and transform them into a post traumatic growth experience is critical for your well-being and your child’s. The care of a special needs child places stress on all levels of the pyramid to self-actualization. Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid which hypothesizes that humans have five ascending levels to address. Primary needs of health and safety must be met before ascending to the top level of self-actualization. Anecdotally and as a cadre, parents of special needs children seem to have a higher level of self-actualization than the norm. How they achieve this is a specific decision, based on a need to survive what has been dealt to them in the unfolding game of life.