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Viewpoint

Concerned parents have large network on hand

Editor’s note: This month, View From the River columnist Margaret Nelson asked Carol Lunan, one of the River Center’s parent educators, to address the realities of families with children who learn and grow differently.

Several years ago I was home visiting a child who was enrolled in my preschool program. The child jumped from one idea to another, rarely staying on one topic for very long. When I talked to his mother she shared that he crawled later than other children she knew. He had a hard time following anything more than a one-step direction. On the first day of program, he walked into our group sing time hiding behind his mother and quickly put his hands over his ears when we started singing. Changes in the routine were challenging for him. Mom talked to other parents about her concerns but friends said, “Oh, he’s fine.” She was worried and felt that others did not see what she was seeing in her son. This mother is not alone.

I have worked with children and their parents for over 25 years now in a preschool/kindergarten setting, summer programs, and parent groups. We have shared many conversations about children’s behavior and development. When development is a bit different than what I generally see, those conversations with parents can take on different focuses. Some parents wonder if it is something the child will outgrow, others are worried about their child getting a label. Some are happy to have the diagnosis so they know their children will get the help they need. Sometimes, after many conversations, one of the parents share that they experienced the same thing as a child and remembers being picked on and don’t want that to happen to their child. Some always knew there was something going on with their child but when they tried to talk to someone about it, they were told not to worry, everything is fine. For many there are concerns about how the child will do in school. How will my child get what she needs when she is in a big classroom with so many other children?

There is a whole system out there that has changed so much over the years but often our only knowledge applies to what happened when we were children, little glimpses into what we ‘thought” was happening for someone that we knew in our childhood. And yet, those experiences can affect our ideas about what will happen for our own children regardless of how limited our picture of the situation was.

From my perspective as an early childhood professional who has worked with hundreds of children, the goal is to find out what is happening for the child. How does he learn? What is happening physically, intellectually, socially and cognitively? How does she process information, take in the information that is presented to her? Then, how can we support that child based on all that has been learned so that he can be successful in his learning? In the end, the diagnosis doesn’t really matter unless it helps us to know what the child needs.

There are services out there that you may or may not be familiar with at this time. Such as, if you have questions about development in a child under 3 years, you can call Monadnock Developmental Services and talk to someone about your concerns. There is also the Parent Information Center whose mission “is to guide and encourage families in supporting the unique learning potential of their children, including children with disabilities.” They offer free workshops regarding the special education process and can provide in depth information about the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process.

It is helpful and reassuring to know there are people out there who can provide information and offer support.

On November 16th, The River Center is hosting a program, Special Education: Working Together to Support Children and Their Families. The focus of the program will be information, support and collaboration. We will begin with a panel discussion and then move into focused small groups to discuss and share information about various aspects of special education. See The River Center website (www.rivercenter.us) for more information or call 924-6800 to register.

Carol Lunan, M.Ed. has worked as Parent Educator at The River Center for the past 10 years. She has just received the Kay Sidway Award for Family Support from Family Support New Hampshire. This award is given annually to a professional working in the field of family support in New Hampshire who embodies the skills and values that inspired so many to look to Kay Sidway, former director of the Children’s Place and Parent Education Center, as a mentor.

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