Last December, I sat in a windowless room and listened to three professionals agree that my two-year-old son, Hudson, qualified for the county’s special education program. They proposed that Hudson would enter a half-day class that comprised a mix of typical and special-needs peers. He would have an Individual Education Plan and scheduled therapy sessions. I was advised to decide quickly whether to accept the invitation into the program or not. It was important, they said, to begin as soon as possible.
Two years old is a key time in development. Research shows that “the years from birth to age 5 are viewed as a critical period for developing the foundations for thinking, behaving, and emotional well-being. Child development experts indicate it is during these years that children develop linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and regulatory skills that predict their later functioning in many domains” (Trawick-Smith, J. (2014) Early childhood development (6th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson; Woolfolk, A., & Perry, N. E. (2012) Child and adolescent development Boston, MA: Pearson). My arm cramped from all of the paperwork, but I jumped through all the bureaucracy. Hudson began riding the bus to his special program five days a week.
It’s been two months. My boy now asks questions, talks about emotions, and is getting better at understanding verbal prompts. He is very fond of his new teacher and the other students. Hudson’s teacher and I communicate daily about his progress. In short, there are no negatives. He’s catching up. He just needed a boost to do it.
As happy as I am with these results, I can’t help but wonder about something one of Hudson’s daycare providers told me: the fact that it had only taken me six weeks to seek and receive special services for Hudson made me an anomaly. She had seen parents drag the process out for more than a year. Often, it was for jaw-droppingly simple and insipid reasons, like forgetting to make a phone call or not returning paperwork promptly. This is not just a goofy bumble from a busy parent – this is something that can have a cumulative, negative effect on a young child. According to The Children’s League, research by the RAND corporation has found that “early childhood intervention programs have been shown to yield benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression and attainment, reduction in delinquency and criminality, and improved labor market success, among other domains.”
A year is a significant fraction of a child’s life – a fraction in which their minds are making essential connections. Why deny them the opportunity to have the richest experiences possible? I encourage parents to act right away if you suspect your child needs special services. Of all the resources you have as a parent, the most important and most precious is time. Do not let it go to waste.