When your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP), there's a lot to learn. You are faced with new terms like "special needs" and "early intervention." You have to figure out health care and childcare, and find the best path forward for your child. It's normal to feel overwhelmed. But don't worry — you're not as alone as you might feel.

    In fact, many resources and support services are available to you. Still, it can be hard to know what's best for your child. This 8-step checklist can help you determine which early steps to take to help your baby, toddler, or preschooler.

    Step 1: Contact Early Intervention

    Kids with special needs are entitled by federal law to extra support to help them reach developmental milestones such as walking, talking, and self-feeding. These services are called early intervention and can be offered by therapists at home, daycare, or another facility.

    Each state runs its own early intervention program. Ask your pediatrician for a referral or visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center directory for state-specific contact info.

    Step 2: Consider Help at Home

    Your child might have trouble eating and swallowing, have seizures, or need medicines at regular times. In-home care from a medical professional can be helpful for your child and give you a break from round-the-clock caregiving.

    This type of care can be arranged through your hospital's care management team. This team usually includes nurses and social workers, who can help you figure out what type of help you need. You also can ask your child's doctor for a prescription and referral for in-home help.

    Contact your insurance company to find out whether you have coverage for this care.

    Step 3: Look Into Medicaid

    Even if you have private health insurance, your child might qualify for Medicaid, the federal health insurance program that provides coverage for people with disabilities. Medicaid can cover treatments that are not covered by your private carrier and can help ease out-of-pocket medical costs.

    Step 4: Find Childcare

    By law, childcare providers cannot discriminate against children with special needs. However, you do want to be sure that the day care center or childcare provider you choose has the skills and setting necessary to safely accommodate your child's needs. In many cases, the state agencies that handle early intervention can provide referrals to appropriate childcare providers.

    Step 5: Secure Your Child's Future

    Speak with an attorney about establishing legal and financial frameworks that will protect your child in the future. An attorney who specializes in special needs law can advise you on the best plan for you and your family.

    Also talk with a lawyer about creating a will that, aside from financial matters, designates who would care for your child in the event of your death.

    Step 6: Schedule Play Dates and Parent Dates

    Don't shy away from "Mommy and Me" classes or neighborhood play dates. Children with CP and their parents benefit from socializing. Also consider joining a support group or social group for parents of children with special needs. Being around parents going through similar challenges can help you feel less isolated, and can provide your child with valuable peer experiences.

    Step 7: Prepare for School

    By age 3, your child will begin to receive any required educational services through his or her local school. Learn more about navigating the grade-school years in our Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Big Kids.

    Step 8: Find "Me" Time

    Life with a young child is overwhelming for anyone. The best way to gather your strength is to step back and take time for yourself. Trade off"me-time" with your spouse, ask a family member for help, or do a childcare swap with a friend — you watch her kids one day, she watches yours the next.

    Look into respite care as well. Respite provides caregivers and other family members with a break from the responsibility of caring for a child with special needs. ARCH National Respite Network maintains a database of respite services. There is funding available in most states to pay for respite care, but funds are limited and waiting lists are common.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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