Understanding your Child and their Development
“When should I approach childhood specialists for help?”
If you’ve ever had concerns about your child’s development, you’re not alone! Whether you’re worried about school readiness, behaviour, speech sounds, or another area of development, many parents, at some point, have had concerns about their child’s wellbeing.
It is a natural part of parenting to have occasional concerns about your child’s development. After all, there are so many skills children need to learn throughout their childhood. Learning to jump, read, draw, empathise (just to name a few) takes time and practise. It’s important to keep in mind that all children develop at different rates. So when is it the right time to approach a childhood specialist with your concerns?
Understanding your child’s development is an essential step in identifying whether your child may need some extra support. Developmental milestones are skills that most children are able to do by a particularly age. While many children achieve their developmental milestones within the typical time frame, it is important to remember that every child grows and develops differently. Some children reach their developmental milestones at a slower rate than others. Some of these children may catch up. However, other children may not and their developmental delay may progress further. For some children an underlying cause (e.g. genetics, childhood illnesses, complications during pregnancy or birth, trauma, environmental issues) may be impacting their development. For others, the specific cause may be unknown.
Monitoring your child’s development with developmental milestone checklists can help with making the decision to contact a childhood specialist. Developmental milestones can be categorised into five main areas:
1. Cognition (intellectual skills)
This refers to your child’s ability to learn, think, and problem solve. For infants, it includes showing an interest in the world around them. For young children, it includes repeating back four numbers. For older children, it includes skills related to the school curriculum.
2. Social and emotional skills
This refers to your child’s ability to relate to other people and regulate their emotions. For infants, it includes turning their head towards people. For young children, it includes solving social problems by sharing, negotiating or avoiding conflict. For older children, it includes their ability to understand another person’s point of view.
3. Communication (talking and understanding) skills
This refers to your child’s ability to use and understand language, say appropriate speech sounds for their age, and communicate fluently. For infants, it includes making different human sounds (e.g. consonants and vowels). For young children, it includes saying a complete sentence. For older children, it includes using appropriate grammatical structures in narratives.
4. Motor (fine and gross) skills
This refers to your child’s ability to use and coordinate their small (fine motor) and large (gross motor) muscle. For infants, it includes rolling from side to side, and transferring an object from one hand to the other. For young children, it includes catching and throwing a ball, and drawing simple pictures. For older children, it includes participating in team games (e.g. tennis, soccer etc.), and fluid handwriting.
5. Activities of daily living
This refers to your child’s ability to engage in everyday tasks. For infants, it includes engaging in simple play routines. For young children, it includes toileting training. For older children, it can include completing household chores independently.
For children with developmental delays, it is important for them to receive specialised support as early as possible (Early Intervention). Delays in development can lead to further challenges throughout a child’s life in areas such as academic ability, independence, participation in social activities and everyday tasks, emotional regulation and self-esteem. Early intervention has shown to help with reducing frustration and challenging behaviours, as well as supporting children to reach their full potential.
If you’re in doubt, it is better to have your concerns checked than to ‘wait and see’. You are your child’s best advocate. If you have strong concerns or another care provider is worried about your child’s ability to learn, move, speak or participate in everyday activities, it may be worthwhile discussing your concerns with your General Practitioner or a specialist.
When visiting your doctor, it may be worthwhile taking a milestone checklist along to the appointment. Milestone checklists for children aged 0-12 are available on the Youthrive website – https://www.youthrive.com.au/the-milestones/
What are some key signs to look out for?
There are several signs a child may display to indicate if additional support from a childhood specialist is needed. It would be beneficial to seek some advice, as soon as possible, from your General Practitioner or a childhood specialist, if your child shows any of the following:
• Not achieving typical developmental milestones (particularly multiple milestones).
• Significant loss of skills.
• Changes with their behaviour (e.g. withdrawing from activities of interest).
• Poor interaction with adults or other children (including lack of or limited eye contact).
• Limited or lack of response to sound or visual stimuli.
• Difficulty with muscle movements, strength, or coordination.
Which specialist should I approach with my concerns?
Approaching a childhood specialist with your concerns can be quite daunting. Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine which specialist to contact or which concerns to address first. Your child’s General Practitioner, child health nurse, or teacher should be able to offer guidance with making a referral or directing your concerns to an appropriate service. Alternatively, you could contact a childhood specialist.
At Youthrive, we provide an integrated therapy service including psychology, occupational therapy and speech pathology all in the one place! We offer:
• Clinical assessments,
• Developmental screeners,
• Counselling and parental support,
• Individual therapy,
• Multidisciplinary therapy,
• Group programs, and
• Workshops for parents.
We believe in working closely with families to get the best outcomes for all. We can offer services at home, in the classroom and in the broader community. We also believe it’s important to work alongside other medical practitioners, teachers, and parents to support children’s learning and development.
For more information about developmental milestones and to find out what your child should be achieving at their age, click here.