Children develop at different rates. If your child begins to walk later than your friend’s child, this may reflect a simple difference between the two children. There is, after all, a normal range for learning to walk, with some children begin earlier and some beginning later. Lateness does not necessarily indicate some sort of problem. The same principle holds true for cutting teeth, learning to talk, becoming toilet trained, learning to read, learning to ride a bike, being ready to go to sleepover camp and learning to drive a car! There is a normal range for every aspect of human growth and development. The question is, of course, how do you know when your child is outside of that normal range? How do you know when to be concerned?
If you are worried about some aspect of your child’s development, consider the following tips:
Don’t Ask Your Friends; Ask Your Doctor!
Turn to an expert in child development to find out the normal age range for any aspect of your child’s development. This may be your family doctor, your pediatrician or a child psychologist. Taking your baby and child for regular “well-baby” checkups is a good way to stay on top of your child’s developmental tasks – just be sure to tell the doctor what your child is and isn’t yet doing. Although the internet offers a great deal of information as well, try to search government, medical and university sites for this kind of information; you are looking for accurate facts and figures. If you discover that your child’s skill level is significantly behind suggested averages, follow-up with a medical assessment.
Some Conditions Require a Long Time to Assess
A child may have a number of questionable symptoms. For instance, he may have trouble dressing himself independently at an age when his peers are already competent in this task. In addition, his speech may lag behind both in vocabulary and articulation. Finally, he may be immature for his age, displaying wild, aggressive and impulsive behavior more characteristic of a much younger child. These symptoms may be related – or they may not be. The doctor may need to watch the child’s development over the next year or two to see how things develop. This is particularly true for young children because young children have a larger range for normal development. In fact, some conditions cannot be accurately assessed until the child is around 6 years of age. Hyperactivity is one such condition. Many children outgrow hyperactive tendencies by the time they are six, but those who don’t may have ADHD (attention deficity hyperactivity disorder) or some other condition. Although the doctor may suspect the condition several years earlier, a formal diagnosis might have to wait. There are two benefits to taking your child for assessment at the earliest time: one is so that the doctor can follow the course of development in order to make an accurate diagnosis over time and the other is so that you can receive help in arranging for intervention “as if” the child has already received a diagnosis. For instance, both the parents and the psychologist may suspect that a child has Asperger’s Disorder. It will take a long time for an accurate assessment. However, the parents can begin early intervention “as if” the child does have the condition. This helps the child’s development so that by the time he is old enough for a proper assessment, the disorder (if he has it) has significantly improved! Earliest intervention gives the best results for every aspect of child development. Moreover, many interventions (although certainly not all) are experienced as fun by the child. This helps the youngster achieve the greatest growth with the least stress.
Early Intervention Makes the Greatest Gains
Many interventions that help children’s development are regular childhood activities. For example, puzzles can help eye-hand coordination and perceptual skills. Singing, dancing and listening to music can help auditory development and many types of brain development. Computer games can improve tracking skills, eye-hand coordination, fine and gross muscle development, problem-solving skills and other skills. Sports, gymnastics, dance classes and swimming lessons can improve gross motor development. Art classes can improve fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, laterality, attention to details, concentration and other abilities. And we could go on and on. The point is that you can give your child “enrichment” even in the absence of a formal assessment. If you see that your child is lagging behind in some aspect of growth and development, try to choose fun activities that build up that skill area. If you have a “teacher’s store” in your area, or if you look online for special education products and catalogs, you will find many resources you never even knew existed to help children’s development in numerous ways. Your child’s classroom teacher may have some ideas for you as well – express your concerns (and/or listen to the teacher’s concerns) and ask what sort of activities might be useful in order to help develop weak skills.