Around 2.8 million children in the US are living with a disability, with some having additional medical, emotional, or learning needs from the time they are toddlers. Toddlerhood in general is a fascinating time for kids and parents alike. As your little one picks up gross motor, fine motor, sensory, language, and social skills, they also gain independence—a quality that all parents should encourage. From the start, giving your child support, encouraging them to make choices, and safely monitoring their activities can enable them to gain crucial skills that will boost their confidence and help them feel more empowered. Keep the following tips in mind to ensure your toddler has all their needs fulfilled and enjoys a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world.
Proactivity is Key
In the case of some special needs, a diagnosis is made when a child is at least 18 months. This is the case, for instance, with cerebral palsy, which is usually diagnosed in babies and toddlers aged between 18 and 24 months. Despite this fact, signs and symptoms may be present earlier and research shows that babies can often be diagnosed as early as six months of age. If you notice specific signs and symptoms that make you feel your child may have CP, then you might start with a cerebral palsy test, simply to observe if they have hit specific milestones. In the case of CP, signs may include stiffness in the legs when being picked up, an inability to hold up their head when picked up, feeling stiff or floppy, and more. There are online CP tests available for different ages, and although they will give you a good idea of whether or not your child has this condition, formal consultation with a certified physician is always key if you are concerned about your child’s development.
If your physician or team of physicians gives you a diagnosis, arm yourself with information so you can formulate the best strategy for your toddler. Knowing your child’s predispositions and needs will enable you to be a better advocate for them at school, in the doctor’s office, and in the presence of others. Knowing what your child can and cannot do will help you give them appropriate tasks and chores and it will enable you to set reasonable goals alongside them. Your child should feel like an important part of the household and that means they should have their own list of responsibilities. Toddlers can start out with easy tasks such as neatly putting their toys away after play or bringing their cup or plate back to the kitchen with you after a meal.
Making Learning and Therapy Fun
Academic life can be more challenging for a child with special needs. Give your toddler a headstart by using visuals, books, blocks, and other materials that will serve them in their future learning. Lead by example, letting your child see that books and other learning material are an important part of your life. Choose therapists that combine fun with work and that have a jovial, upbeat manner that will make your child look forward to their sessions. Up the fun factor by joining parent support groups and making play dates for your child. Social interaction is key for your child, as friends can provide crucial support both at school and in your child’s leisure time.
If you have a toddler with special needs, foster their spirit of independence and a ‘can do’ attitude from the start. Sign your toddler up for fun classes and activities and make frequent playdates. Take time to become an ‘expert’ on your child’ condition so you can advocate for them at school and with physicians with confidence and authority.