Early intervention is key!
In the late 1990s in America, an idea coined the ‘zero to three movement’ came about in an effort to impact parental attitudes and behaviours, as well as public health policy. Numerous research studies have shown that between zero and three years old, significant neurological growth and changes take place, with some sources stating that by three years old 85 per cent of brain growth has taken place. It is no wonder then why clinicians and child development experts recommend that close attention is paid to the developmental milestones of children and that parents and caregivers avoid “waiting and see”.
As a child gets older, it becomes far harder to learn particular skills – whether cognitive, motor skills or language and communication skills, as critical “sensitive periods” for the development of those skills would have passed. The brain is capable of making new connections throughout life and so if children are lagging behind in development, it does not mean that these skills cannot be learnt, it just means it may be that much harder and the process of learning may be less efficient and result in frustration and other emotional or behavioural concerns.
The month of April is recognised internationally as Autism Awareness Month. Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as it is formally known, is classified as a neurodevelopmental disability in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V). Autism Spectrum Disorder, as defined by www.autismspeaks.org “refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication”. Many children diagnosed with ASD also have sensory integration difficulties or deficits, which essentially means that these children’s brain have trouble receiving, responding to and processing information that comes through the senses – visual, auditory, touch, taste and smell. Many children diagnosed with ASD start showing signs as early as 12 to 24 months of age. There are developmental milestones outlined for each developmental stage that children go through. It is highly recommended that parents try to do their research as well as have conversations with their child’s primary healthcare provider about the child’s development.
A parent always knows, and so I always encourage parents to pay attention to their intuition and gut feelings. If you suspect something is not quite right, chances are it likely is not. Parents are encouraged not to engage in “sitting and waiting”, but if you have concerns, reach out to professionals who can speak to your child’s development and help you to advocate for your child’s needs.
As was said before, the earlier intervention is sought for young children, the better their prognosis. Research has shown that it is harder to effect change and progress in children with developmental delays the older they get. It is therefore critical that parents who have serious concerns seek advice and possibly assessments to evaluate their child’s skills and to have a better understanding of their child’s profile. Many parents shy away from assessments for fear of a diagnosis and label being placed on their child, which they believe may cause unnecessary stigma and discrimination for their child, especially in the school environment. However, parents are encouraged to consider how they would respond to a child with a significant health or physical challenges that were impacting daily function. Parents typically do not hesitate to take a child to the doctor if there is a noted medical concern. Why should it be any different if a parent believes their child’s development is off track? It is important that we appreciate that developmental delays can also impact a child’s potential and ability to live as close to normal a life as possible.
The developmental path of a child can be significantly impacted in a positive manner, especially once we have identified where the challenge lies and how to appropriately intervene. In the event that a developmental assessment or psychoeducational assessment is conducted, these assessments help parents to identify a child’s strengths and weaknesses, with the aim being that results and the interpretation of results will help parents better understand their child and how to help them fulfil their highest potential. Therapeutic interventions such as speech therapy, behaviour therapy or applied behaviour analysis therapy, social skills training, play therapy, among others may also be recommended.
Parents who have concerns that their child may not be accomplishing specific milestones may contact agencies or institutions such as The McCam Child Care and Development Centre or The Early Stimulation Programme for help, advice and guidance on how to support their child and what steps to take in starting intervention early. It makes a difference!
Kellie-Anne Brown Campbell, MEd, PGDE, is a licensed associate school psychologist and principal of McCam Child Care and Development Centre.