NEW YORK — When to focus your attention on the kids in your family?
That is the question a new research paper is asking when parents with preschool children have a toddler or younger child.
The question is being asked in the context of a nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center that found preschoolers were far more likely than adults to say they have a sibling or cousin.
While it is a very difficult question to answer, the study suggests the answer is a resounding yes.
“I’m going to be able to get to the answers to that,” said David F. Hart, who leads the family focus research team at the Pew Center.
The study, which will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) in San Francisco next week, comes as parents with children with developmental disabilities or disabilities in which one or both are on the spectrum struggle to find time to spend with the kids, which can be a real barrier to children’s growth.
For instance, in the Pew study, a quarter of preschoolers said they had a sibling, and 26 percent of preschooler children said they have an extended family member.
But in a separate APA survey, more than a third of preschool kids said they were never alone with their sibling, cousin or a close relative.
It’s a common perception that children who have special needs will get special treatment, said Amanda L. Brown, the lead author of the study and a research associate at the University of California, Davis.
But, Brown said, it’s important to note that many children with disabilities are not necessarily struggling with their disabilities.
“It’s about being able to be connected to the kids,” Brown said.
It’s also important to remember that some children with severe disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or autism, can experience isolation, isolation that may include not being able and not wanting to interact with others.
“There’s this kind of ‘I can’t see anyone’ thinking in a lot of these kids, and I think it’s a reflection of the disconnect from the world that they have to deal with,” Brown added.
Brown and her team found that in a national survey conducted between 2009 and 2011, nearly three-quarters of preschool children said their families were not at all involved in their daily lives.
This figure dropped to just 13 percent for children who had special needs.
“We need to be really careful about our expectations and our expectations of what our children should be doing,” Brown told ABC News.
“They should be able, and they should be allowed, to play and to do things together.”
While many of the researchers interviewed for the study were not parents themselves, they found that a majority of parents were aware that their children’s socialization and activities were being negatively impacted by the growing demand for preschool services and activities.
“Our data suggests that parents need to know what is expected of their children, and that they should not feel they’re doing their children a disservice by not being as supportive of their kids,” said Brown.
The research team also noted that preschool is one of the most challenging times for children in the United States, which makes it difficult for parents to find the time to meet with their children.
In fact, parents with kids who have developmental disabilities are less likely to have a regular babysitter or regular playtime.
“The more time that is wasted, the more time children have to get lost in the world, in all these other activities that they don’t have access to,” said Hart.
And because many families struggle to balance work and childcare, some may choose to turn to social distancing and limiting activities for their children such as the use of computer games or videos, while others may choose not to take the time for their own activities, which could be stressful for children.
“If they don`t have the time, the opportunity, they’re not going to get the help that they need,” Hart said.
“We have to be clear that it’s not about us or them, it`s about the kids.”
As more children have developmental problems, they are more likely to be placed in a special education classroom, where they are exposed to an environment that is not their own.
And some parents may be hesitant to share the child’s personal information with their kids because they fear the child may become isolated and be harmed.
“There`s a lot more to the situation than just the lack of access to time with the child,” Brown concluded.
“So it is an important time for us as a society to start to be more proactive and more supportive.”
Read more about children with special needs here:The study was published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.