Bennett just celebrated his first birthday and we took him to the pediatrician for his medical check up. While Bennett is alert, social, and loves to play, the doctor expressed concern that he wasn’t saying “mama” and “dada,” which is a language milestone for one-year-old children. Just in case this was an indication of a language delay, the doctor recommended contacting the “Early Intervention Program.”
As the head of a children’s museum, I—of all people—should be acutely aware that every child grows at her or his own pace. Nonetheless, the idea that Bennett might be developmentally “behind schedule” was uncomfortable. Though I told myself otherwise, part of me saw the potential delay as a reflection of my parenting. Were we not reading together enough? Did I not “narrate” our activities in the way the baby books have instructed me to do? Frankly, constantly describing everything I’m doing to Bennett – “Now, daddy is squeezing avocados to see which ones are ripe” – feels odd and a bit exhausting.
One of the great things about Early Intervention assessments is that they offer a “win/win” outcome. If the assessment tells us Bennett’s communication skills are fine, that’s great. If the assessment reveals a delay, we can take the necessary steps to ameliorate it. Regardless of the specific outcome, we’ll learn new ways to play and engage with Bennett.
Scheduling an assessment was more difficult than I had assumed it would be. Believe it or not, the process is more than just a simple telephone call to schedule an appointment. I did not realize that for children ages 0 – 3, Suffolk County’s Division of Services for Children with Special Needs oversees the Early Intervention Program. Initially, I was given the number of a nonprofit organization that conducts early intervention evaluations and had to wait while they sent my referral to the County. My wife and I then met with a social worker in the County Center office in Riverhead and chose an organization to conduct the assessment from several dozen options. Barring any other hurdles, we hope to have the evaluation completed by the end of the month.
As I’ve been going through the process, I have wondered what it must be like for other parents to navigate the system. What if they rely on public transportation? Or don’t speak English? Or can’t afford to take time off from work? CMEE is committed to exploring and identifying ways that to make it easier for marginalized families to access the Early Intervention Program. Already, the Museum has volunteered to discretely host early intervention assessments for families who don’t feel comfortable having the evaluator come to their home.
If you have any suggestions for how CMEE can help, please email or call me!