There is a myth of the perfect child and we, as parents, want to believe in that myth. Beginning when our children are born, there are small signs that our child may not be perfect. They don’t sleep through the night or nurse easily. They cry more than we expected, and our dreams of blissful babyhood are tarnished. The developmental milestones come and go, but some are met on time, some are met late, and some are not met at all.
In the beginning, we seek out other mothers, finding groups online, groups in our neighborhood, and we find comfort there with other parents experiencing the same ups and downs with early parenthood. As time goes on, we continue to read advice online, scour parenting books, consult with our pediatrician and learn to gauge our child’s growth and development with a more experienced eye. We relax a little and notice that all of the babies and children around us are growing at their own pace, in the way that is right for them.
Then we enter the school age years, elementary school, and subtle differences are much more noticeable. We look around our child’s classroom, watch the children at birthday parties, dance classes, and sporting events. We also notice children who might need more support and others that amaze us.
Parent-Teacher conferences arrive with November and learning about our child’s strengths and weaknesses can be both wonderful and heartbreaking. When planning to attend a parent-teacher conference it is a good idea to prepare questions or discussion items you would like to cover with the teacher. Most likely the teacher will have test data, a report card and work samples. You can ask the teacher questions about your child’s development both socially and academically. Ask the teacher for suggestions of things you can do at home to help your child achieve school success and be open to suggestions. If you have concerns, or the teacher brings up items of concern, there are options to explore.
North Los Angeles County Regional Center
There are resources beyond asking friends for advice or searching the Internet for answers. One that is especially valuable is the North Los Angeles County Regional Center (there are others in the area with similar services but this Center is closest to Topanga.).
The Regional Center supports the rights of individual people with developmental disabilities and provides services to assess children through the Early Start Program for ages 0-3 in the areas of cognitive, physical, communication, social or emotional and adaptive delays. (North Los Angeles County Regional Center website https://www.nlacrc.org/home)
Mission Statement—North Los Angeles County Regional Center, with integrity and transparency, provides lifelong partnerships and planning to persons with developmental disabilities by promoting their civil and personal rights, providing comprehensive information, advocating in cooperation with consumers, promoting and providing quality services, and supporting full participation of consumers and families in all aspects of community life.”
Vision Statement—Consumers and their family members will:
- Have control over their supports and services.
- Have greater access to safe and affordable housing.
- Receive innovative supports and services to meet existing and emerging needs.
- Receive supports and services in true partnership with the regional center, providers, schools, health care, and other agencies.
- Have greater access to opportunities to work in non-sheltered settings.
For individuals age 3-adult, services can be acquired through the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act. Developmental disabilities are conditions related to an intellectual disability, Epilepsy, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, and other disabling conditions.
“There is no charge for diagnosis and assessment for eligibility. Once eligibility is determined, most services are free regardless of age or income. There is a requirement for parents to share the cost of 24-hour, out-of-home placements for children under age 18, which depends on the parents’ ability to pay.”
This is an amazing resource for parents and families. If parents have concerns about their child’s speech development, intellectual development, or social/emotional skills, the Regional Center can provide valuable assessments, advice and services. The Center also offers support groups for parents who have children with special needs. As teachers, we see children enter school with developmental delays and as much as we can, begin the assessment process through the school district as quickly as possible. It takes time and so much time is lost in the process. I have observed children who have the advantage of early assessment and have begun to receive support at a young age and noticed that they have a better chance of school success.
There are two roads we can walk as we raise our children: the road of denial and the road of acceptance. Denial doesn’t always mean denying outright; it sometimes means not looking too deeply at our children’s differences or needs.
Acceptance doesn’t always mean accepting blindly. It sometimes means accepting that our children need more support than we alone can provide. As parents, we are obliged to not only walk down the road with our children, but also to hold their hands, guide them and advocate for their needs. For years, we are their voices and our job as parents is to follow our instincts, consult with experts (teachers, doctors, psychologists, dentists, speech therapists, etc.) and to be open to all options that offer our children the chance to succeed at school and in life.