By Dr. Jack Herrin
Q: I’m a little anxious about my three-year-old son’s first evaluation by a developmental pediatrician later this week. What can I do to prepare?
Going to a specialist can be daunting sometimes. Between work and the daily grind, and worrying about your child and wanting to place him or her in the best possible light, it pays to be prepared for your first evaluation. Here are a few tips that can help your family ready themselves for their first visit to the developmentalist.
- Confirm your appointment and deal with the nitty-gritty.
It’s a good idea to call your doctor’s clinic a few days in advance to iron out all the details–you wouldn’t want to be taken by surprise on the day itself. As simple as it sounds, I’ve had parents who get lost finding their way to the clinic. They also think a session doesn’t take long, but in reality, developmental evaluations may take between 40 minutes to as long as two hours, depending on the age and needs of your child. These assessments may make use of standardized tools or informal questionnaires to help your doctor get to know your child better. Ask in advance how many people may accompany you to the evaluation. Having a general idea of how your doctor conducts his evaluation can help you prepare better.
- Organize yourself and your support team.
It is highly recommended to find a quiet place where you and your spouse can gather your thoughts. Call on other members of the household and speak to each one individually about your shared concerns about your child. Make a list of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and rank the concerns according to that which you feel affects you or your family the most. Think about when your concerns started. A good strategy is to link your child’s concerns to landmark life events–e.g. did your concerns come about close to his first birthday, or her first year in preschool, or over the Christmas season, etc. These landmarks help you better remember and document your child’s landmark events. Example: Did your concerns come about close to his first birthday, or her first year in preschool, or over the Christmas season, etc. Linking your child’s concerns to significant life events helps make recall much more accurate.
- Bring documentation of your child’s health and development.
During the evaluation, your doctor may ask if you have videos of your child–most parents have a treasure trove of pictures and videos from birthdays, family outings and gatherings, or daily life around the house. These pictures and videos would help your doctor gain better insight and visualize your concerns, especially if these do not show up during the evaluation itself. Other useful items may include your child’s baby book, a letter from your pediatrician, their progress reports or report cards from school, or medical records from other specialists.
- Clear your schedule, and then some.
It’s a good idea to make sure that for the time allotted for your child’s evaluation, including the hours immediately before and after, are reserved solely for your child. If need be, take the day off from work, delegate other responsibilities for the day to those you trust, and prepare your mind to only think about your child. Distractions such as business calls, thinking about errands or deadlines, or other work concerns often make it difficult for you to remember important details or concentrate on your child during the evaluation. Be prepared to extend, especially if your doctor welcomes questions, or if your child needs more time to finish his evaluation.
- Bring all essential personnel.
During the evaluation, it is important to bring the people who can best help you introduce your child to his doctor. Both parents in attendance is a given. You may also bring along a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or a trusted friend or member of the household who knows your child intimately since they will be able to help your child in terms of his developmental needs.
- Be Patient and Bring only the essentials.
Leave early on the day of your child’s evaluation. Murphy’s Law always applies, so expect traffic and don’t take anything for granted. Prepare for a wait, in case the child before you need to extend. Just as you would like your doctor to attend to your needs and go beyond your allotted time to give better counsel, this may also put you in a position where your appointment may start a little later than expected. You may bring books to read with your child (and a magazine or two for yourself), for him or her to read while waiting. It is highly discouraged for you to use your phone in the waiting room or allowing your child to play or watch videos while waiting for his turn. Many a tantrum have been avoided this way.
Taking time to prepare for your child’s first developmental evaluation can positively influence the outcome of your consult–providing you with better clarity into your child’s needs, a healthy family attitude toward providing intervention, and an excellent relationship with your new doctor.