The wait for an appointment to get your child a comprehensive evaluation can be very long and discouraging. As a parent you may have heard or read that the earlier your child receives intervention the better, so now you want to get started ASAP. You may be wondering the best way to help your child while you wait. Here are some suggestions.
1. Access Public Services
All children with disabilities from birth through age 21 are able to receive services through the education system. This is available through a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2006). This law states that all children with an identified developmental delay or disability should receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE) that includes special education and related services. These public services, offered at no cost to families, do not require that your child already have a diagnosis because public education programs have their own process to determine eligibility.
For Children Under the Age of 3
Contact SoonerStart, Oklahoma’s public early intervention program, for assistance. SoonerStart is designed to meet the needs of families with infants and toddlers with developmental delays by providing individualized, family-centered supports and resources which may include speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, or other services, at no cost to the family.
For Children Age 3 and Older
Contact your local school district for an educational evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for special education services. If a child is eligible, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed and services are provided at no cost to parents.
Clinical Evaluation vs. School Evaluation
Many families become confused about why their child might get a diagnosis of autism in a clinical setting, but the school says the child does not qualify for an IEP. On the other hand, some students qualify for an IEP under the educational category of autism, but do not in some cases receive a clinical diagnosis.
- The goal of a clinical diagnosis of autism is to determine if any treatments or therapies are needed outside of school, and to make sure those treatments will be covered by insurance.
- The goal of a school evaluation is to determine if a student qualifies for special education services.
2. Access Private Therapy Services
Contact providers who offer clinic-based therapy (speech-language, occupational, physical, or behavioral therapy services)
Your health insurance may cover speech-language and occupational therapies for communication, social, motor and sensory delays and deficits. Contact your insurance provider first to find out which services and providers are covered.
3. Promote Social Interactions with Other Children
If possible, explore enrolling your child in a Head Start program, daycare or Mother’s Day Out program to provide exposure to typical peers and promote social interactions. Another great opportunity is to access the local library for story time which includes other children around the same age singing songs and reading books. This can help your child slowly get used to being around peers without forcing interactions if they are not ready.
Reach out to your friends with children the same age and arrange play dates.
4. Play with Your Child
The best developmental activities for your toddler are the ones they experience through play!
Get down on the floor with your child and play with them, it is free, easy, and builds many skills. The benefits of play are undeniable. Line up, build, play dress up and play with whatever it is that interests your child. If your child wants to roll a car back and forth, do this with them while commenting about the car, the color and how fast a car can go.
Let’s Play Guide
Here is an activity guide for toddlers (age 12-24 months) to provide ideas on ways to engage with your child while working on important developmental skills.
5. Reach Out to Others
You are not alone. One of the best sources of information for learning about community resources and experiences is through networking with other parents who have children with similar needs. They often provide guidance and insights about available resources. Organizations that can help you network:
- The Oklahoma Family Network connects parents with each other for one to one mentorship and support.
- AutismOklahoma currently hosts eleven different groups around Oklahoma to provide a way for parents to connect with each other and their community.
While waiting to know whether or not your child is on the autism spectrum can seem like forever, there are many services and supports that you can access that will be very beneficial to your child.