By Donna Gray, originally published in the Calgary Herald
Advisory Board Member

The first few weeks of preschool open up a world of experiences for a child. It can also reveal hidden cognitive, behavioural, and social issues that may need close attention.

From the age of four, any educational, health, or development issues become a shared responsibility with the Alberta ministries of Education, Family Services, and Health. If there is a concern before or after a child hits preschool, there is help available.

 “Children can start getting special education funding through Alberta Education at the age of two years, six months,” says Roxanne Bond, preschool co-ordinator at the Child Development Centre in Calgary.

The coverage needs to involve at least two issues such as delayed speech and language, motor (fine and gross), behaviour, and conditions medical in nature such as Attention Deficit Disorder, autism, genetic syndromes.

Some moms and dads struggle to step forward and ask for help, which can cause obvious delays. Doing so also requires research, extra time, and attention. The realization can also bring up fears that a child may not be perfect.

Bond says it is vital they work as advocates for their children.

“If parents believe their child has a delay, significant or not, it’s important to call their doctor first, or at least, call the Children’s Link Society for referral information” she says. “Pay attention to what the preschool teacher is saying about the child, if they are trained to notice such things.”

She also recommends parents who already have older children in elementary school, to talk with principals about programs, funding, and intervention when that preschooler eventually arrives at their door. 

“Principals often have to apply directly from their school for funding,” she says. “Preschools can do the same thing, so it’s a good idea to check if they applied for assistance before.”

Since many preschools are private, they may not be connected to public school systems, or resource programs. Joanne Baxter, an early childhood learning advisor and instructor at Mount Royal College, says some preschools may not be connected to provincial resources, but can offer private services or referrals for speech psychologists, collaborative mental health, psychologists.

“People wait and then look to the school board, but the resources aren’t always there,” she says. “People are still waiting half a year to see a psychologist.”

She adds that all children develop at their own pace, and cautions about coding too early.

“The early childhood education industry promotes intervention as early as possible,” she says. “But there are certain developmental aspects where young kids should not be coded until they are in kindergarten.”

Shirley Leew, pediatric rehabilitation clinical researcher with Alberta Health Services, has been screening young children for several years in order to determine the regions greatest intervention needs.

She says the studies help identify problems and confirm suspicions, but often parents don’t know where to go next.

“They’re not getting referred as often as they would like,” Leew says. “So we created an online resource book that gives them some leads.”

Leew says parents can be over vigilant, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“Waiting until a child is 5 or 6 can be too late in terms of language,” she says. “The child has to relearn a whole new way of communicating by then, and it may be more difficult.”

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