When parents are awaiting the arrival of their child whether it is through pregnancy or adoption, they typically hope for their child to be healthy and happy. For some parents learning that they may have a child with special needs can initially be devastating. There can be a wave of emotions as parents try to prepare themselves for whatever their child may need and a whole new world may open in which they will need to navigate.
If you are parents that have just learned that your you have a child with special needs, take comfort in the fact that there are an array of professionals and services that can help your family. Through the support and guidance of family, friends and others, together you can rebuild the vision that you had for your child and know that there is journey ahead full of hope.
Below is a list and brief description of the roles of some of the different people that can be available to help you and your family:
Audiologist -conducts hearing assessments and can design and help with the management of amplification devises such as hearing aids, FM systems and cochlear implants.
Dietitian -provides assessment of a child's dietary intake and can assist with the implementation of specialized diets and increasing calories. Also can provide regular monitoring of weight gain and growth.
Developmental Pediatrician -unlike a general pediatrician this doctor has additional training in order to specialize in assisting in assessing a child with special needs medical and developmental profile. S/he can help to identify other medical or professional staff that can be helpful to your child.
Early Childhood Educator -is a teacher for younger aged children, typically from infancy up to elementary school.
Geneticist -for a child that may be experiencing needs that can be related to brain development or body structure, a pediatric geneticist can be helpful in recommending specific testing or treatments to better understand if your child has a specific condition. If your child has a certain condition, a pediatric geneticist can also help a family to determine if the condition is hereditary.
Neurologist -a medical doctor that has additional training in the area of neurology, understanding the central nervous system which includes the brain, spinal cord, muscles and nerves. A pediatric neurologist can help with diagnosis, treatment and managing care for a child that may be experiencing needs like medical needs such as seizures, muscle weakness, developmental needs such as speech delay.
Nurse -most parents are familiar with nurses and they can be instrumental in helping parents better understand their child's medical profile and needs. Pediatric nurses may have also completed specific coursework or training working with children.
Occupational Therapist -helps a child to participate in activities of daily living, "ADLs". For a child, depending on his/her age, it can be feeding/mealtime, play or learning in school. An occupational therapist may do work around helping a child with sensory processing, meaning managing the on-going sensory information that we all experience throughout the day. A child may have challenges with regulating this information and can display difficulties, such as limited attention span or minimal self-calming behaviors. An occupational therapist can help in identifying a variety of techniques or tools to help.
Physical Therapist -main focus is on a child's movement and mobility. This includes assessing balance, coordination, control, muscle strength, muscle tone and how the muslces learn movement, better known as motor planning. Depending on your child's age, a physical therapist can provide techniques and exercises. Additionally, depending on your child's needs can help in the selection, design and/or fitting of orthotics or other assistive technology.
Psychologist -can provide assessment and evaluation of a child's academic or psychological needs. A pediatric psychologisy can work with a family or child individually in dealing with a variety of concerns related to social relationships, developmental, behavioral or mental health needs, and/or learning disabilities.
Social Worker -depending on a social worker's coursework and training, s/he can help with a variety of needs. A social worker can assist in helping the family cope and manage the journey of having a child with special needs, provide assessment and support if a child has social/emotional needs and/or helping to navigate the larger systems in accessing supportive services such as SSI.
Special Educator -an early childhood educator's coursework is based on understanding development and teaching for young children whereas a special educator's education is based on learning about children with special needs and how to help them educationally.
Speech and Language Pathologist -works with a child to assess how a child is understanding and processing language and how s/he is communicating. Depending on a child's age and needs, a speech and language pathologist may also assess a child's voice quality, articulation and/or feeding/swallowing. A speech and language pathologist can provide strategies and techniques to help a child as well as may use other tools such as sign language and pictures to help your child understand language and communicate his/her needs.
Although this is not a list of all the different professionals available to help your family and child, it is a list of the more common people that might touch your family's life at some point. As you continue on this journey, all of the above people are available to offer support. Never hesitate to ask questions, ask for clarification or ask for what you want and need for your child. If there is ever a time when you are not satisified with the people working with your child and family it is your right to voice your concern and to expect a reasonable solution that you are comfortable with.
Do not forget that regardless of your own educational background or experiences, you are the expert of your child and family and will always know is best. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need for your family and child. If you have good people working with you and your family, they would want to know and do their best to give you and your child what you need.