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Child Development... what's "normal?"

Posted on July 27, 2012 at 5:50 AM

[Please note: Any case studies/people which may be mentioned in this blog are composites (unless otherwise indicated) of personal and professional experience over 25 years of people-helping in a number of different capacities and circumstances. Resemblance to any specific individual, living or dead, is purely coincidental and totally unintentional.]


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Children grow up fast. Really fast. In the moment, it seems like this teething, colicky, drooling stage will last forever, and then suddenly, you're taking pictures at his/her graduation, and feels like a mere 'blink of the eye' since you brought this tall, handsome boy, or this beautiful, sunny girl home from the hospital.


How our children develop is important - not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Just as with a tree, how the sapling is bent, so grows the tree. Understanding developmental milestones is one way parents can help maximize their child's potential to become that handsome or beautiful graduate, headed off into adulthood with all the skills, tools, and wisdom you can provide.


Jane was sure that something was wrong with Patrick. He seemed quieter than usual, and he had taken to staring fixedly at things, instead of his usual wriggling and exploring. She wasn't sure when the change began, but she had noted on the calendar when he had started to make vocal noises, and when he had first said, 'Mama." Now, he made almost no noise at all, and she found it difficult to engage his attention. He wouldn't look at her anymore - she thought he kind of looked past her; like she wasn't really there. When she talked with her husband about it, he told her it was just a phase Patrick was going through, and she (Jane) was '...freaked out about nothing.'  Jane let it go, but continued to worry.


There are many interesting websites which provide general guidelines for developmental milestones, such as here, here, and here. It's good to have a guide posted somewhere so that you can stay on top of the stages through which your baby progresses. In addtition to this physical growth, there is also psychosocial stages of development, which has to do with your child's psychological and emotional development. Understanding these stages can also help you to help your child develop a perspective of the world that is nurturing and validating to his/her sense of self.


Erikson's Stages of Development are the most accessible in understanding how personality or sense of self develops. This is important because we, as adults, don't often think about how our child may be processing the world around him/her, and so don't realize the conclusions that might be drawn by a child regarding specific events. Or how those conclusions then impact the child's developing sense of self.


Both Fatima and Abdullah were at a loss as to how to help their four-year-old daughter, Rehab. Recently, she had begun screaming at bathtime, trying to get away as soon as anyone mentioned a bath. It was clear that she was terrified, but neither parent could figure out what might have triggered this new behaviour. There had been no significant changes in routine, no new people added to the household, and to their knowledge, no accidents or unpleasant incidents at bathtime which might account for the change in her. After two weeks of fighting with their daughter, Fatima and Abdullah looked for help.


Children have all the intelligence they're ever going to have when they're born. What they don't have is experience. And it is the experience of life that shapes, molds, and focuses that inherent intelligence. When life experiences are essentially positive, and the child is cared for, nurtured, disciplined, and protected, the potential of that child is at least equal to the degree of intelligence. When a child's life experiences are negative (through neglect, abuse, trauma, or illness, etc.) the potential of that inherent intelligence can be impaired. Knowing the signs of healthy development physically and psychosocially will give you, the parents, the greatest edge in helping your child to fulfill his/her potential.


Carl and Jennifer knew from the outset that something was wrong with their son. His muscle tone seemed poor, he couldn't turn his head, and he had problems feeding. Jennifer had wanted to feed him herself, but this proved impossibly frustrating, and she had eventually switched to a bottle. This had helped a bit, but feeding Cody was still frustrating. Finally, when he was six weeks old, Jennifer mentioned her concerns to the Community Health Nurse, who did a thorough exam of Cody, and then referred Jennifer to a paediatric specialist. Several weeks later, Carl and Jennifer were informed that their son had Down's Syndrome (Trisomy 21) and that there was currently no way to determine how severe the genetic condition would impact Cody. 


Maximize your child's potential by knowing the developmental milestones, and by asking for help when your child doesn't seem to be meeting them. Whenever there's a problem with development, early intervention is the best way to minimize the impact of the developmental delay on your child's potential. Specialists who work with children from birth to five years old can pinpoint specific areas of weakness and provide interventions, exercises, and therapy that can help to elminate weaknesses, build on strengths, and allow your child to fulfill his/her potential.


Jane eventually talked with her mother about her concerns, and her mother referred her to a local child development center for screening. The screening resulted in a complete assessment, and eventually Patrick was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He was immediately enrolled in a program for newly diagnosed babies. Jane and Patrick were assigned an Applied Behaviour Therapist with whom they worked for three years. By the time Patrick started kindergarten, he was indistinguishable from his peers through observation.


Fatima and Abdullah took their daughter to see a play therapist when it became obvious that nothing they did made any difference to her terror of the bathroom and bathtime. The play therapist was able to work with  Rehab through the medium of play to uncover the source of the terror. An incident a month earlier, seemingly minor to her parents, had caused disturbed Rehab. Unable to express herself, the fear had grown and attached itself to an activity (bathing). The therapist was able to help Rehab articulate the fear, and how that fear had impacted her sense of self. After six sessions of therapy, Rehab was able to allow her mom to bath her, and shortly after, the fearful behaviour disappeared completely.


Jennifer and Carl insisted on a second opinion with regard to their son's diagnosis, and when it was confirmed, they accepted a referral from the paediatrician to an early intervention specialist. This therapist taught Jennifer and Carl how to parent Cody so that his inherent intelligence was nurtured, and his potential maximized. The therapist explained to Cody's parents that Down's Syndrome happens on a spectrum, and by working with Cody to minimize his weaknesses and maximize his strengths, they were helping their son to become all that he had the potential to be.


All babies develop at slightly different rates. Some children appear to skip developmental milestones (one of my daughters never crawled - she went straight from sitting by herself, to standing, to running... at 10 months), and some spend a little extra time mastering a particular skill. This is all "within normal limits" for babies. When a milestone is delayed by weeks or months, or a previously mastered milestone disappears, seek help. No baby was ever hurt by an unnecessary screening (this particular assessment is painless and quick) but many babies are hurt by unrecognized delays that could have been changed or minimized if caught earlier. 


Early Intervention is a good thing. If you're concerned at all, have your baby screened. The Soor Center's Imman Issa has the expertise to lay your concerns to rest, & to help you help your child 'catch up' if need be. Imman also has the education and experience to provide structured programs for special needs babies - Down's Syndrome, CP, birth trauma, and other chronic diagnoses. 


Imman provides screening, therapy, and intervention programs at the Soor Center. She is available for appointment by calling 2290-1677

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