When Your Kid Seems Different

The Window of Opportunity

When my daughter was diagnosed with hypotonia, I had never heard the term "early intervention." I certainly didn't know there was a federally funded system to take care of her needs. Because research had shown how essential the first years of life are for a child's development, Congress created the state grant program in 1986 as part of what's now known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide free therapy for children under age 3. This includes treatment for delays in cognitive skills, speech, behavior, gross motor skills (physical therapy) and fine motor skills (occupational therapy).

"In the first few years, a child's brain is rapidly developing new connections that enable the skills we call developmental milestones," explains Dr. Gardner. "The mastery of each new milestone -- be it emotional, physical, or cognitive -- leads to the next one. If a particular skill doesn't develop properly, that makes the next one more difficult to master, and a baby may compensate in abnormal ways." Fortunately, a baby's brain is malleable enough to play catch-up when therapy is started soon, but waiting too long can lead to permanent problems.

That's why groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC are working to raise awareness about the importance of early intervention for developmental delays. Since 2005 the CDC's "Learn the Signs. Act Early" campaign (cdc.gov/concerned) has encouraged parents to track their children's milestones and get help if they notice significant lags.

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