Meet your children where they are — Why they need our support

Children can’t speak for themselves. So it’s up to us as parents to advocate for them.

Nick is a parent from New York who joined us to discuss the importance of parental involvement in a child’s growth, and how fundraisers like Cycle of Support provide youth with support tailored to their needs.

The one lesson I wish I could impart to every parent is: meet your child where they are, as early as possible.

My oldest son, Liam, who’s now six, recently graduated from a therapeutic nursery school where he received individualized classroom instruction, speech and language therapy, music therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and support from the social work team.

Liam is like many children on the autism spectrum. He started the program at the cusp of his third birthday when developmental delays impeded his ability to integrate into his community. He was verbal, but didn’t speak fully. Compared to his neurotypical peers, he has delays as much as 14 months in terms of speech, cognitive skills, and motor skill development.

Initially, my wife and I paid full tuition for Liam to attend daycare with neurotypical children. But he quickly started to experience significant withdrawal. He became the class mascot, being led around as someone different from everybody else. I remember moments when he would struggle to articulate feelings of anxiety and isolation; it would break my heart. The staff, though kind, lacked the skills to engage Liam’s unique needs and didn’t understand that he may learn differently than others do.

He needed a more substantive, individualized approach to grow — which we found at our therapeutic nursery school. Right away, the set up was different. The program wasn’t about getting kids to behave like everyone else. The social worker, head teacher, OT specialist, psychologist, and everyone in between played a role to deliver a plan for each child to be themselves.

Every parent wants to have that eureka moment when all of a sudden a switch is flicked, and their child speaks spontaneously and behaves like their neurotypical peers. The reality is, it’s not so easy. It’s not parking your child into a great program and coming back to a makeover at the end of the year.

At our therapeutic nursery school, I realized the magical moments happen from engaged work, over time. When my wife and I would check in after three months, we’d say to his specialists, “Wait a second, he’s doing that?” Thanks to the program, he grew in his speech and behavior in ways we never predicted. His growth wasn’t on our timetable — it was on his timetable.

The people who we worked with helped us move away from the stigma of Liam’s diagnosis and support his learning in a way that respected his dignity as a person. The truth is, we all have mental health — we are all feeling, growing, living with real challenges. We can’t extricate the child’s mental health from the family — the child is the family and therapeutic nursery schools get that.

Now we don’t talk about him in the third person or focus on his deficits when he’s in the room. We celebrate his success and talk about opportunities in front of him. I may not know where Liam is going to be years from now and I have aspirations for him, but I’m prepared that his journey towards those high points are going to be different from his peers. And I’m perfectly okay with that, because he’s an amazing boy doing amazing things.

As parents and caregivers, we have a responsibility to advocate for them. Children can’t speak for themselves. They can’t vote. They can’t decide that a family situation isn’t working. So it’s up to us to advocate as fiercely as possible for the most rational and healthy environment at school and at home.

If you’re not considering the mental health of children with or without special needs, they can quickly find themselves in a dark place of difference when they’re not engaged purposefully. Don’t let today’s kids buy into the stigma of a diagnosis. Show them how much they have to offer the world. Support their mental health journey, so they can step out with confidence, and chart their own path.

About Cycle of Support

1 in 10 youth has a mental or behavioral health problem that impacts their lives at home and at school. On September 15th, let’s ride to change that.

Children’s mental health impacts all of us — every community, every school, and every family is touched by it in some way. You can join hundreds of New Yorkers at Cycle of Support to make a difference to kids in need.

Kids face mental health challenges just as grownups do: anxiety, depression, mood disorders, autism, attention deficit disorders, and more. There are countless kids in need of support.

Cycle of Support is a half day charity event whose proceeds fund a broad range of mental health programs for kids in New York City and Westchester. The ride is designed for teams, families, and individuals alike to experience a great cycling course while helping kids have healthier childhoods.

We hope you’ll join our ride — and the cause.

1 in 10 youth has a mental or behavioral health problem that impacts their lives at home and at school. Let’s ride to change that.