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What to look for when you are worried about your child’s development

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As parents, when you are pregnant and have a newborn, you think about what life is going to be like, and you hope for all the things that parents hope for. Expecting a child is a journey filled with moments of joy, challenges, and inevitable concerns. Parents eagerly anticipate their child’s milestones, but deviations from developmental norms can stir anxiety. It’s crucial to remember that each child is unique, developing at their own pace. However, certain signs could indicate potential developmental issues warranting professional attention. If you have concerns about your child’s development, it is essential to consult a child health professional. Seeking advice from a health professional can provide guidance and support for a range of issues related to child health and development.

What are developmental domains and milestones?

They are categories used to describe and understand the various aspects of human growth and learning from infancy through adulthood. These domains typically include physical (motor skills, health), cognitive (intellectual development, problem-solving), social/emotional (relationships, self-awareness), and language (communication skills, literacy). Understanding these domains helps educators, parents, and healthcare providers to support and assess developmental progress effectively. Monitoring developmental milestones is crucial in tracking a child’s progress in communication, emotional, physical, and social skills.

Here, we’ll explore five red flags that may signal a need for a closer look at your child’s development. A child health nurse can provide valuable guidance and support in assessing and addressing any concerns related to these developmental milestones.

Delayed Speech and Language Skills

The sound of a child’s first words is a milestone many parents eagerly await. While variations in the onset of speech are normal, significant delays can raise concerns. At the age of 6-8, children should be able to follow complex instructions, and difficulties in this area can be a sign of developmental issues. If your child is not using at least ten simple communicative words by 16 months or forming two-word phrases by 24 months, it might be time to consult a speech pathologist or specialist. Additionally, difficulties in following simple instructions, poor eye contact during interactions, and a lack of interest in social games or sharing experiences could also indicate underlying issues.

Limited Social Skills and Engagement

Most children show interest in social interactions with others from an early age. Concerns may arise if a child avoids social referencing of others, responds to their name after 12 months, or shows little interest in interacting with peers or caregivers. Although some children are naturally more introverted, a profound lack of social engagement can sometimes be indicative of developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Early intervention is critical to helping children develop vital social skills.

A-typical Play Patterns and Physical Development

Play is not just an activity for children; it’s a window into their developmental world. Comparing a child’s play behaviour with other children can help identify potential developmental concerns. By a certain age, children usually engage in pretend and imaginative play, using toys to represent different characters or scenarios. A possible red flag is a child who has little interest in varied types of play or who repetitively uses toys in non-traditional ways, such as obsessively lining up objects without engaging in imaginative play. While play preferences vary, a lack of imaginative play or diversity in play can sometimes signal developmental concerns. While there is inherently nothing “wrong” with typical play, it can lead to not developing certain skills that may impede learning.

Difficulty with Change or Transitions

Are you worried about your child’s adaptability to changes and transitions? Children thrive on routine, but excessive difficulty with change or transitions can be a red flag. If a child exhibits extreme distress over minor changes in routine, transitions between activities, or adapting to new situations, it might indicate underlying developmental issues. This difficulty can extend to extreme separation anxiety beyond the expected age, resistance to new foods or environments, or an inability to move from one task to another without significant distress. Behavioural flexibility is a cusp that often leads to being adaptable to living in a complex world of social rules and language.

Extreme Behavioural Challenges

While tantrums and challenging behaviour are part of child development, extreme behavioural challenges can impact a child’s physical skills and their ability to engage in physical activities. Behaviours that can lead to not being able to access fun and engaging activities and environments limit your child to live their life to its fullest and experience all that everyone else can experience. These barriers to learning and accessing reinforcing environments can include prolonged tantrums, significant aggression beyond typical frustrations, or an inability to be consoled. Excessive fearfulness, clinginess in various situations, or an unusual lack of fear in dangerous conditions can also indicate deeper developmental or emotional challenges that could benefit from professional support.

Conclusion and When to Consult a Health Professional

Noticing potential red flags in your child’s development can be daunting. Still, it’s important to remember that early intervention across developmental domains can lead to significant positive outcomes so your child can be autonomous and experience life like everyone else. Trust your instincts as a parent and seek professional advice if you’re concerned about your child’s development. It’s essential to approach these issues with a balanced perspective, recognising the uniqueness of each child’s developmental journey, interests, and uniqueness. Staying informed, observant, and proactive ensures that your child receives the necessary support to thrive. Remember, seeking help is a step toward empowering your child and your family on this developmental journey.

About the author

Is my child at risk for developmental delay?

This checklist for toddlers is used to check toddlers aged 16 to 30 months for signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delay.

Meet our Executive Director

Joshua's professional journey began in 2000, and since then, he has dedicated himself to the field of behavior analysis, both in practice and academia. His area of expertise involves providing direct consultation services for various age groups, focusing on behavior acceleration and deceleration.

Josh Aspire Early Intervention

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