Recognizing developmental delays Parent Q&A

Family Matters

May 31, 1998|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. My 4-year-old son has developmental delays. His speech has been delayed since age 2, at which time his pediatrician said he was "just lazy." When my son was 2 1/2, the pediatrician again told me he was fine and would catch up. When he was 3, I told the doctor that I felt my son was making progress because he was "imitating" my speech. The doctor said this was good.

When he was 3 1/2, I knew we had a serious problem. Normal speech was not progressing, but what I now know as "echolalia" was.

Since then my son has been in speech therapy and occupational therapy. He's been enrolled in a special-education pre-K class and is doing beautifully, with lots of progress and hope for "normal" speech.

It would be of great benefit to many parents who are unknowingly dealing with symptoms related to developmental delays and disorders if you could address this topic. Many pediatricians (I have since discovered) are not well-versed in this area.

A. Good for you for figuring it out by yourself. You are certainly correct. I have used the age of 2 as a marker for speech evaluation if there are delays. But whenever a parent suspects that a child is not progressing like other children his age, it is time for an evaluation by people who understand small children.

A delayed child doesn't just "grow out of it" without help. And if a parent is worried, that's enough reason to seek help.

We have learned a great deal in the past 15 years from the early-intervention programs that are available to all children, thanks to a national mandate.

Any parent who is worried about a small child's delays should seek the nearest early-intervention project. Contact your state's coordinator of early-intervention services for infants and toddlers. Or check with the nearest large medical center.

The earlier we can intervene with a small child, the more we can offer remedial therapy to optimize his progress.

Q. My friend has 8-year-old twins. Their biological father has not seen them since they were infants, and my friend's husband is the only father they have ever known.

The twins have seen pictures of their biological father and have asked who he is. How old should they be before she tries to explain to them who he is? I'm concerned that they would want to meet him -- and how do you explain to a child that their father wants absolutely nothing to do with them and in all probability resents their very existence?

A. I would never try to keep a secret from children. They will find out about it sooner or later, and if you have hidden the truth it can shake their trust in you.

The twins can still be attached to your friend's husband as their father even if they know about their biological father. Her husband is their "father" for all intents and purposes, but they should know they have another one also.

It is difficult to explain that their biological father hasn't tried to see them, but it will come out eventually. If it is possible for the twins to meet him someday, reality is more likely to allay their questions and to help them see that their "father" is the one who has nurtured them all these years.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Dr. Brazelton regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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