While my husband and I initially were concerned about our oldest son and his lack of speech by eighteen months, his status as our first child and our relative inexperience with child development made us hesitant to rush to judgment. It was our pediatrician’s concern that pushed us toward seeking the help of Early Intervention. Without her, who knows how long it would have been before we did anything?
If you visit your pediatrician with questions or suspicions about a potential developmental issue, it is essential that you as the parent are willing to answer any questions your pediatrician might have openly and honestly.
With that in mind, I interviewed Dr. Katie Gunter, one of Huntsville Pediatric Associates’ eight pediatricians, about what parents of special needs children – and any parent with concerns about their child’s development – should know about the role of the pediatrician in the lives of both the parents and the child. While the specifics might change depending upon whether or not you know your child does have a developmental issue of any sort or if you suspect a potential issue, Gunter makes it clear that the pediatrician can be a valuable partner in your plans for seeking help for your child.
How to Choose the Right Pediatrician
For families who know before the child is born that developmental issues of any type will be present, the goal is to find a pediatrician who has experience with those issues and is willing to create a game plan.
Gunter recommends visiting a potential doctor’s office and sitting down with the doctor to talk about his or her experience treating children with those issues and what a game plan for treatment might look like, especially after that first year.
- You want to look for someone who knows your area’s available resources and can help you access them. Access to resources like Early Intervention requires a pediatrician’s referral just like many insurance plans require a referral in order to see specialists.
- You want to know that your doctor has a plan for your child and knows how to access the necessary resources to make that plan happen.
If you visit your pediatrician with questions or suspicions about a potential developmental issue, it is essential that you as the parent are willing to answer any questions your pediatrician might have openly and honestly, Gunter says.
The key to knowing if you might need some sort of help, either a referral to a specialist or specific therapies for an issue, is giving as much information as possible about what you observe happening with your child. Omitting specifics or downplaying potential problems can mean missed opportunities in terms of dealing with potential issues.
At the same time, if you feel like your pediatrician is not listening to you or answering your questions in full, you need to talk about your concerns and make sure you get the answers you need or consider what your next step needs to be. Once you have discussed your concerns, then talk about a plan for what’s next for you and your child. The goal is to leave your pediatrician’s office feeling like you have a better idea of what to expect from the immediate future as well as what the long term will look like.
A Good Pediatrician = Your Special Needs Partner
For Gunter as well as for all pediatricians, the main message is that you need to feel comfortable with your child’s doctor and your relationship with them. As parents, we all have ideas for how we want to raise our children and pediatricians can play a vital role in that. They can help you in all phases of your child’s life, from that first year when you are learning about your child through the toddler, preschool, and school years.
The goal is to treat not only the developmental issues but the whole child, because, after all, whether your child is special needs or not, you want to enjoy these early years while you have them. Your pediatrician can be a partner in that pursuit.
You can contact Dr. Katie Gunter and Huntsville Pediatric Associates at 256-265-2464.
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This article was initially published in 2015 and has been updated with current info.
Jennifer Kelly grew up in the Birmingham area, but migrated to Huntsville for graduate school and put down roots after meeting her husband, Jamie. In addition to being a mom to her two boys, she is a tennis ninja, trivia nerd, freelance editor, and aspiring writer. You can visit her at The Sir Barton Project, a blog about her upcoming book.