First, deep breath mama. Dealing with any potential issues with your child is never easy, but things have a way of working out. Promise!
I was in your shoes a few years ago. I know how intimidating it can seem to confront a very opaque system trying to get services for your child, that you may not even understand. Please don’t let the system make you feel overwhelmed, frustrated and worst, overcome with fear.
It’s natural to be nervous and anxious when you think your child may have a problem. But this is the first of many issues your child will confront in their life. Learning to overcome obstacles from an early age is one of the best gifts that you can give your child. So deep breaths. Learn as much as you can and then start taking action.
There are three paths that you can take:
Child Under 3 – State Funded Rehabilitation Services
Every state provides free rehabilitation services for children who are not meeting critical milestones from gross motor skills, fine motor skills, occupational therapy and speech therapy. To get services, google your local Regional Center. Call them and explain what is going on, and ask for an appointment. It may be 2-4 weeks out.
If you are like me, you may not be able to wait that long (since you will be thinking about this relentlessly). So make friends with the person on the phone. Explain your worries and concerns, and how nice it would be to get an earlier appointment. Offer to be placed on a cancellation list and be flexible with your schedule.
Assessments will be done partially in office. For my son, he had his hearing checked in office (which he failed, and I was FREAKING OUT! Luckily I posted in my local mom’s group and a woman worked at the Braille Institute and got us in the next morning for an assessment. He passed, and we were referred to an ENT. Eventually we found out he had air bubbles in his inner ears).
The actual meeting with the therapist is done in home, which is really nice since your child will be far more comfortable. My son had a speech assessment as he was barely speaking. However, he was using a lot of sign language, pointing and grunts, which I learned count as a form of language. The “normal range” is from 75 – 125. As a rule, any scores with more than a four-point scale difference should qualify for services. However due to state funding problems in California, we were disqualifies because his bottom score was “too high.”
Grayson scored 136 for receptive language (what he understood) and 96 for expressive language (what he was able to convey with his language. So again, he should have qualified as he had a HUGE gap. But, she told us we wouldn’t. Therefore, we would have to go for private speech therapy, which is often very expensive (around $125 – $200 an hour) and good luck getting any coverage by your insurance.
Child over 3 – local school speech and occupational services
Once your child turns three, they qualify for services at their local elementary school through the school district. This is fantastic news, as they won’t disqualify a child who needs help from services due to lack of resources. By law, they have to provide services to children who fall within a certain range.
To get services, you will need an Individualized Educational Plan or IEP. You have probably heard horror stories about IEPs. My advice to you is, set aside any urban stories you may have heard. Every experience is different, and mine was absolutely wonderful. An IEP does not have to include fighting for services or an extremely negative experience, despite what you may have seen on facebook (DO NOT GO INTO FACEBOOK GROUPS TALKING ABOUT IEPS PLEASE!).
You get an IEP by first finding your local elementary school based on the school district boundaries. When the school is in session, go to the office and submit a written request for an IEP. All you need is a short sentence or two, your child’s name and birthday, your phone number and email, and a signature.
You will receive a call setting up an IEP. Always feel free to follow up, as people are not perfect, and mistakes happen. Our IEP was set up for the next week.
During an IEP your child will again be assessed for a variety of issues, besides the one for which you requested to see if they can benefit from other services as well. Ours was done on the site of another campus, and the two people who did the IEP were so nice and sweet. At the end of the appointment, they will give you an idea of what services your child needs, but you will need another appointment to create the actual IEP.
We completed the process in two weeks, and he started speech immediately. Unfortunately, most schools only are able to offer services a few days a week due to having to split a specialist between a few schools. So you may need say an hour at once as opposed to doing speech twice a week for 30 minutes.
Every year, you will have another IEP appointment to go over your child’s progress and what is recommended for the next year (which again may include additional services).
If you have private insurance (which I really hope you do), you always have the option of using it for speech, rehabilitation and occupational services. However, it is often not covered, very expensive, or you may need to drive an hour to see a covered provider.
The system is ridiculous and not designed to help the child in my opinion. The earlier your child receives services, the better the outcome. If your teacher or any other care provider suggests your child be assessed, or you have a nagging feeling that your child is struggling in an area, do NOT delay for fear of the unknown. Your child is FINE. This doesn’t make them stupid, slow, or any other negative label. They just need some extra help in an area or two.
My son walked at 10 months, was going up and down stairs on his tummy at 11 months, running at 11.5 months, swinging a baseball bat and connecting with the ball at 16 months and kicking a soccer ball with two legs at 18 months. He was SO focused on gross motor skills that his fine motor and speech was a bit ignored. That’s all.
Now you know my son has received services for sensory processing needs. However, many insurance companies don’t yet recognize this as a valid medical concern. So make an appointment with your Ped and discuss your concerns. They will help you get the services you need. In my case, our ped wrote up a referral for fine motor skills, which was a legit issue, but the occupational services he received helped with his vestibular, proprioceptive and fine motor issues. These services were covered with just a co-pay.
But no matter how hard I tried, I could never get his speech covered. And it’s expensive!! I received many notices about lawsuits against the insurance company to get speech covered, but never seemed to get anywhere. So try to make a deal with a local therapist if you don’t qualify through the regional center until your child turns 3.
Hope this helps you in your journey! Please share your experiences below!