My firstborn was a typical over-achiever. Walking by 10 months, full sentences by 2 years old, and reading well by age 5. I had my twins 5 weeks early, but they were healthy and never had any NICU time. Although I knew not to compare them to my first child, they did EVERYTHING late. They did not smile until 3 months old, did not sit up well until almost 9 months, and did not start to babble until a year old. Their pediatrician kept telling me not to worry, that they were born early, that twins meet milestones in their own time. But when they only had one word by 15 months old, even he was concerned.
Immediately after their 15 month appointment, I called Tennessee Early Intervention Services (TEIS) and set up an appointment. They came to my house for the evaluation and both twins qualified for developmental therapy. Weekly sessions in our home started soon after, and progress was slow but steady. When my daughter started growling and exhibiting OCD behaviors and my son started having tantrums lasting over an hour, they were referred to a behavioral specialist and qualified for behavioral therapy, also done weekly at our house.
When the twins turned 3 years old, they were re-evaluated, and my son no longer needed services. My daughter qualified for speech, which was started in our local elementary school. They are now 6 years old, just finished kindergarten, and are thriving. I am so grateful to their therapists, who also became good friends over the year and a half that they worked with them.
Now, our youngest son is in speech therapy through TEIS. He went from having 4 words at 22 months to well over 100 after 6 months of therapy. He is also stringing words together, knows all his colors, and is learning shapes. I feel very strongly that he will have the same great results as his siblings.
Over the years, I have had several friends ask me about my experience with Early Intervention when they had similar concerns with their own children. I also see questions about speech delays posted frequently on social media. I am surprised to learn that most people have never even heard of TEIS so I compiled a list of helpful tips to know when seeking help with a possible developmental delay:
- Anyone can make a referral to TEIS. You do not need a doctor, therapist, teacher, etc. to do it for you. Just call them and set up an appointment for an evaluation.
- TEIS is a government funded program and therapy through them is free. At no time will you receive a bill. They will ask you about billing your insurance to see if they will reimburse any therapies, but you will not owe any anything out of pocket.
- The evaluator will test your child in several different areas of development. This involves interacting with your child and asking you a series of questions about your child's abilities and any concerns you may have. Your child will qualify for services if he or she has a 25% delay in 2 areas or a 40% delay in one area.
- The evaluations, meetings, and therapies can usually be done in the comfort of your home so transportation should not be an issue. If your child goes to daycare, therapy can typically be done there during school hours.
- There are specific milestones that they take into consideration with your child's age. For example: if your child is 23 months old, it is very possible they will be tested on an 18 month skill set. This may make it more difficult to qualify since they are expecting your child that is almost 2 years old to only be meeting 18 month milestones. It is recommended that you wait until after their second birthday to get your child tested so they will be tested on a more appropriate 2 year old scale.
- You can have your child evaluated by TEIS every 6 months. That means that if he or she does not qualify for services, and you still have concerns 6 months later, you can get them re-evaluated and they may qualify then.
- If your child does not qualify for services through TEIS, you can always seek therapy on your own. Depending on your insurance, it may be partially or fully covered.
- If your child does qualify for services, they will be re-evaluated before the age of 3 to see if they will continue to meet criteria for therapy. If they determine that services are still needed, you will then go through your local school system to receive them. At that point, they may also qualify for the preschool program at that school. This is provided to children with special needs at no cost to the parents and is a great way for kids with developmental delays to learn and interact with other children, including "typical" peers.
Developmental delays can be scary if you don't have access to information and assistance. Just because your child has not hit every milestone on time or has a speech delay does not mean that he or she will not catch up on their own. Sometimes babies and toddlers just need a little extra time to master certain skills and sometimes they need help. Early Intervention is a valuable resource for both the identification of, and therapy for, developmental delays. If you have concerns about your child's development, talking to their pediatrician is a great first step. This is a great resource for basic information about age-appropriate milestones. There is even a CDC Milestone Tracker App that you can download and reference for guidance (I'm telling you, there's an app for everything). Research has shown that early intervention is the key to success for kids who have developmental delays. You are the voice for your child, don’t be afraid to speak up!