As a parent, there are some things that you just know. The moment that tiny, newborn baby is placed in your arms, your gut instinct kicks in.
Suddenly, you can deftly change a diaper while wrangling a squirming infant and a tube of diaper ointment. Fast forward a few months and miraculously you know how to communicate with a baby, teach it how to talk, walk and eventually, even learn to use the potty!
Parents come uniquely equipped by nature to provide their kids with pretty much everything they need to help them learn, thrive and survive.
But, what about when those parenting instincts raise concerns that something may not be quite right?
For parents who may be seeing a developmental “red flag” or whose children may be exhibiting behaviors that seem to be atypical, the process of deciding when and if to investigate further can be confusing.
Spotting Red Flags
Maybe your child is not talking at the same level as her peers or perhaps you have noticed that your little one seems withdrawn or does not maintain eye contact. Or, maybe your kiddo seems to be developing normally, but a repetitive behavior or habit seems somehow, off.
Take my son, for example. Between about 12-18 months of age he became very interested in anything with a digital numeric display. Alarm clocks, microwave timers, the countdown display on the T.V. during a football game. Anything that would count backwards numerically, he was hooked.
Our chubby-cheeked toddler, who wasn’t very interested in playing with his cousins or his nursery-school friends, would sit on the kitchen floor, completely mesmerized, and watch those little red block numbers on our microwave count down as dinner cooked away. Then, when the numbers hit a double zero, and the high-pitched “beep-beep-beep” ensued, he would laugh and squeal and clap as if Elmo himself had just walked in the room.
My husband and I thought at first, “He’s a genius! He can count backwards and he’s not even two!”
Turns out we were half-correct. Our son, who is now almost nine, is both gifted (math is his specialty) and is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. To this day, he still prefers activities that involve numbers, repetitive patterns or logical thinking. He has more difficultly with tasks that involve language or peer interaction.
But, while we were intrigued by his unique skills and unusual interests at such an early age, beneath the curiosity and excitement for what the future might hold for our child, was a distinct sense of knowing very early on that something about our son was different.
So, how are parents supposed to know how and when to address a possible difference? How are we supposed to clue in to something that our basic parenting instinct hasn’t necessarily prepared us to handle?
Parents Know Best
From my experience interacting with parents of children with a range of differences – from speech delays, to ADHD, to learning disabilities like dyslexia, to autism, to cognitive delays – trusting your basic parental instinct is the best first step towards finding answers.
Many parents of children with differences report a sense of “knowing” that something is going on with their child at an early age. And, as the parent of two children with differences, I am personally and uniquely aware of how your gut can help guide you, even when those around you may not yet be on the same page.
As a new parent, it’s normal for you to bounce your thoughts and concerns off of other parents, family members, friends or even your pediatrician, only to have them bounce right back as “that’s age-appropriate” or “every child develops at a different pace” or “just give him some time.”
In most cases, these responses are absolutely true and often helpful. However, in the case of a child with a developmental delay or learning disability, they can actually serve to delay the process of parents seeking information and help for their child.
Listen to Yourself
We all realize that the people around us are only trying to help, and a little encouragement does go a long way.
But, be careful not to let the voices of those offering guidance drown out the voice that is most important for you to hear when it comes to your children. Your own.
If your gut instinct is telling you that something is off – that something is happening with your child either developmentally or behaviorally that you just can’t put your finger on – listen.
Trust me, you’ll just know.
And, miraculously, just like at birth, your parenting instinct will kick right in, pointing you in the right direction for your child’s unique needs.
What Comes Next?
Are you concerned about your child’s development? Does your toddler or preschooler seem to be behind his or her peers? Is your child exhibiting behaviors that seem atypical? Here are some great resources for parents seeking answers or next steps:
Know the Signs. Act Early Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Developmental Milestones Checklist Child Mind Institute
Understanding Your Child’s Development My Child Without Limits
Autism Warning Signs Parenting.com
Autism Signs AutismWeb.com
Lyn Massey Pollard is the mother of two one-of-a-kind kids who learn and play differently. She writes, blogs, talks and tweets on advocacy for children with learning differences and special needs. Visit DifferentDoodles.com, Lyn’s personal blog and website about embracing differences. Follow Lyn on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.