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How to talk to parents if you're concerned about their child

When bringing up the subject, family members or friends should “think of the range of reactions they might be greeted with,” Rispoli said. “Some parents might feel relieved that others noticed what they were thinking. But for many parents, it can be a shock.”

Considering the emotion surrounding the topic, and to avoid alienating parents or heightening their anxiety, Fitton and Rispoli advise approaching the subject with sensitivity. They offer these tips for talking to parents about concerns with a child’s development:

Know that early intervention is best for the child. The evidence is overwhelming that the sooner developmental delays or disabilities are addressed, the better the outcome for the child. “We know that early intervention can significantly impact a child’s development,” Rispoli said, adding that in many cases, treatment begun at a young age can noticeably reduce the severity of a delay or disability.

It’s also important to note how early intervention ­– which ideally occurs between the ages of 0 and 5, when young brains are easiest to mold – can reduce the time and money required by parents and school systems to address issues in the future.

“It’s important to let parents know that lots of help and resources are available,” Rispoli advises.

In Michigan, two Department of Education programs are at the forefront of early intervention: Early On® Michigan, which provides early intervention services to families with children ages 0- 3, and Build Up Michigan, which operates in school settings to get children ages 3- 5 ready for kindergarten.

Reassure parents that it’s never too late to intervene. While it’s certainly ideal to begin intervention services as early as possible, parents who delayed treatment for whatever reason should receive reassurance the child was not irreparably harmed, Fitton said. “The first 1,000 days are the most critical, and you’ll have greater impact with early intervention than if you wait,” she said. “But kids are generally resilient, and issues can usually be remediated quickly.” The Early On motto – “Don’t worry, but don’t wait” – is an appropriate message to deliver to parents, Fitton said.