How do I get help if I think my pre-schooler has special needs?

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As a mum to be I had dreams about what my children could and may be, well before they was born. As parents, we all dream about the possibilities for our children long before they ever realise them. However, what happens if your child does not develop like the other children of his/her age? What should you do if you have a worry about your child’s learning or development?

How do I know?

Sometimes parents may have a nagging doubt that there is something not quite right. Trust your gut feeling and talk to someone you can be honest with about fears. Parents are usually the first to notice differences between their child and others of a similar age. A trusted friend, neighbour, family member, or early childhood teacher are good people to talk to about your worries. The person you talk to may agree that your child is having difficulty. Perhaps make some written notes about what you have noticed; this helps to get an accurate picture of what is actually happening. The difficulties that parents notice could be; not having the same language as similar age children, difficulty with understanding and concentrating, sensitivity to temperature and touch, extreme anger or passivity, difficulty with coordination and balance, or finding it hard to get along with others. Always remember though that children develop at different ages and it may be quite normal for a child to not be talking when their peers of the same age have an extensive vocabulary. This is also relevant for other areas of development and that is why talking with friends, relatives and professionals is important.

What do I do if I think my child needs help?

If you have concerns about your preschool age child’s learning and development you can talk to your doctor, plunket nurse, iwi health provider, or an early childhood service like footsteps. With your approval these agencies may make a referral to the Ministry of Education, Group Special Education (GSE). GSE staff will then visit with you and your child at home and at your child’s early childhood service, to get a clear picture of what is happening and discuss your concerns.

Why is a referral needed?

All children regardless of their abilities need the same things; love and warmth and limits and boundaries to guide their behaviour therefore is getting a diagnosis of a special need really necessary. Some parents have commented that they feel having a diagnosis has placed their child in a box. They feel that other people judge their child upon their special needs rather than see the individual person behind the label. Because their child is labelled autistic other people tend to think that their child has exactly the same characteristics and needs of all children with autism. The other school of thought is that diagnosis is very helpful. Some parents wonder where their child’s unexpected behaviour comes from and start to think that they are in adequate parents. For these parents a diagnosis gives them the reason for what they observe. An identification of needs is helpful because it allows your child to be able access extra help to reach their true potential.

What is the role of Group Special Education (GSE)

GSE have a team of teachers, speech- language therapists, psychologists, specialists with deaf and visually impaired children, and teacher aids. During the first visits your family and child’s needs can be assessed and then the appropriate support staff put in place. Parents are the experts with their children so GSE staff rely upon what you have noticed about your child to get an accurate picture. GSE can support families and early childhood services to understand how your child best learns. They can help to make a learning plan for your child and help with extra teacher training or suggest that you child would learn better if a teacher aid was available. GSE staff can also offer you ideas where you may get further support through parent groups.

Other places to get help and support

Parent2Parent is a support group run by parents for parents.

The Ministry of Education have a website with information about the service offered by Group Special Education

You can find lists of support groups on the Family and Community Services national directory

All children have different needs. Parenting a child with special needs is very much like parenting any other child. All children need their parents to give them love, attention and to recognise their strengths and abilities. Sometimes children with special needs just require that little extra bit of help to reach their potential. Children with special needs often do reach the same milestones as their peers; it can just take a little longer.

Other Kiwi Families resources

Kiwi Families’ Special Education pages

Learning to Learn– Rosemary Murphy’s blog on learning difficulties

Sue Hunter

Sue Hunter is mother of 4 boys and has a wealth of early childhood experience including lecturing on the subject. She has a special interest in how trauma and neglect can impact upon children’s learning and development. Sue believes that strong connected families are the building blocks to a healthy society.

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