There’s nothing quite like the joy of being a new parent. You spend those early months and years dreaming about who your baby will become. Will he have his father’s athletic skills? Will he be a social butterfly like his mother? But what if your baby doesn’t appear to be progressing like other children of the same age? You start to worry that there’s something wrong, and suddenly the future looks uncertain. How will your child be able to make friends? How will they succeed in school if they can’t communicate with others of the same age?
Early identification of developmental delays can transform a child’s developmental trajectory. The earlier a concern is identified, the better the child’s outcomes will be.
There are a number of early warning signs you can look for to help determine whether your child might have a developmental delay. If your child shows two or more of the below signs regularly, seek professional advice. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone; there are a number of programs and professionals in your community to support your child and family.
Difficulty with communication:
• Uses less words than other children of the same age
• Loss of words
• Does not understand simple instructions
• Uses few or no gestures (i.e., pointing)
• Easily upset when routine changes
• Often does repetitive movements with objects
• Often does repetitive movements with body parts (i.e., arms, hands)
• Has difficulty paying attention to an activity compared to other children of the same age
Difficulty with social/interaction skills:
• Avoids making eye contact
• Does not share interests/objects with others
• Does not listen when called by name
Self care delays:
• Bed time and sleeping patterns are not consistent
• Feeding issues (i.e., picky eater, doesn’t chew food)
• Difficulty with toilet training
• Dependent on others for dressing
• Avoids playing on playground equipment
• Seems to be more clumsy than other children
• Uses one side of the body much more often than the other
• Finds it hard to keep postural control (i.e. sitting)
Monarch House in Victoria offers a free of charge service for parents to get answers about their child’s development. Screenings are completed by professionals who will be available to provide brief consultation with your child. The results of the screening will be discussed with parents and are meant to indicate which areas are following typical development and areas that may require additional assessment.
Your child may benefit from speech therapy, occupational therapy or behaviour therapy if they struggle with any of the following:
• Difficulties with self-care routines (bathing, toilet training, dressing, feeding, sleeping)
• Self-regulation difficulties (i.e., emotional regulation)
• Compliance issues
• A lack of social understanding
• Your child uses less words than other children of the same age
• There is a sudden loss of speech or language skills
• Your child is difficult to understand by others
• Has difficulty following instructions
• Has difficulty playing with others and making friends
• Fine motor difficulties (printing, drawing, colouring, cutting)
• Gross motor difficulties (strength, balance, coordination)
• Difficulties with eye-hand coordination and motor planning
• Difficulties with attention and ability to sit and work at table top activities
• Under or over reaction to sensory input (light, temperature, texture, touch, or sounds)
There are strategies you can employ at home to encourage your child’s development. Be realistic in what you expect from your child and then be consistent in expecting this of them every time.
• Play can help a child develop independent skills such as dressing, bathing or feeding to practice, play with a doll together (feed baby, bathe baby and put baby to bed) and pretend kitchen (take turns ‘eating’ what each other has made).
• Books with simple pictures, colours or shapes can be a quiet activity that you can do with your child, providing shared enjoyment and the opportunity to practice turn-taking when flipping the pages.
• You can set your child up for success by keeping a strong, predictable routine; children thrive in a structured environment. Make routines for daily events such as meal times and bedtimes. This will help your child better understand what is expected of them (i.e. at meals I eat at the table and use utensils).
• Providing an environment free of distractions will help your child be more successful in completing tasks independently. By clearing toys and other distractions your child will be able to focus their attention more easily on your instructions and/or the task at hand.
• Look for the positive behaviours you see your child doing and let them know what a terrific job they are doing. It is useful to teach appropriate behaviour rather than saying “no”. For example, if your child reaches for your coffee cup provide information and turn this into a time to teach them the appropriate behaviour. Instead of saying “no” say something like “Your cup is over here, this one belongs to Mommy/Daddy”).
• Exposing your child to different environments is very important to their development. Allow them to practice on different equipment at the park or gym to work on strengthening gross motor skills.
• When teaching your child life skills (i.e. putting on shoes, using a spoon), find a time when you are not rushed that can allow you and your child extra time to practice.
If you have any concerns regarding your child’s development, seek professional advice. Remember, you are not alone; there are a number of programs and professionals in your community to support your child and family, including Monarch House.