So it’s Day 4 and I’ve already missed Day 3! I really did have the best intentions of finishing my post and getting it online Friday night, but after a day of chasing tiny tots, sitting on the couch with two of my most favourite people, cuddly dog lying on my feet; it was just too hard to get up! But I shall not abandon my commitment – here is the Day 3 post.
Day 2 I talked about the Nipissing District Developmental Screen and how it can be used by parents, caregivers, teachers or other professionals to establish whether a child has met the developmental milestones for their age (in the birth to age 6 range). So what happens if a child is missing their milestones?
If you are a parent and you are concerned, you may want to share your concern with your child care provider or teacher, to see whether they have observed this gap as well. Often they see different aspects of your child since they observe them with a group of children in a different setting. They likely will ask you, as the parent, to give them the opportunity to observe the child over a few days. Your child care provider may also suggest strategies that can help close a gap, or may suggest a referral for further assistance. For example, sometimes a child has a gap in their development because of lack of opportunity, and your child care provider or teacher will probably have some ideas about making opportunities as a strategy. A common example of this is children having poorly developed fine motor skills. One strategy may be to increase their opportunity to use their hands and fingers – toys which encourage the development of the small muscles in the hands, using play dough, colouring with crayons (which require more muscles than markers), using scissors, dressing themselves, fastening snaps and Velcro. Not all gaps fall into this category, sometimes they are indicators that other things may be an issue for your child, so it is important to observe and follow up.
What do you do as a child care provider or teacher, when you think a child is not following the typical developmental path? Often it is best to start with focused observations, including completing a current Nipissing District Developmental Screen. Where possible it is great to involve someone else from your team or organization, a second set of eyes is often invaluable! Share the results of your observations and the Nipissing Screen with the parents. Sometimes these are the most difficult conversations to have. All parents fear hearing that their child is not “normal” or may be experiencing some difficulties. Many times parents already have a suspicion, but it does not necessarily mean that they are ready to hear it from someone else – in this case, perhaps you, as the educator, are just opening the door for further dialogue when the parent is ready. Other times, a family may have no idea that there should be a concern, and may resent hearing this from you. Be sensitive about how and when you share this information. In the rush of drop off and pick up in front of other families is not the time. You may need to ask if you can follow up with them by phone, or set up a meeting. If your program already schedules regular progress meeting with parents, all the better! Do not forget to share the GREAT things that ARE happening – this is easily lost in our own discomfort as we tend to rush to the “bad news” part. It is important to remember why you are raising the concern; it is because it is the RIGHT thing to do for that child. In my own work, I have often found it helpful to share a little of my own personal experiences in this area with families, this often helps them to understand that your goal is to make things BETTER for their child, in whatever way that fits for that circumstance. We all need to be reminded that there really is not a thing called “normal” – we are all unique and will learn and develop at slightly different rates – the important thing about a tool like the Nipissing is that it identifies when development is really starting to fall out a common time frame. Early intervention for children 6 years of age and under can have a lasting impact (for the BETTER!). As child care professionals and educators we have a duty and responsibility to do the RIGHT thing for the children we are entrusted with, and to make that child’s life BETTER. In the early years we have a heavy obligation in this area, as ignoring developmental gaps can lead to children having a great deal of difficulty with school. Lack of school success can lead to lifelong problems. It really is that important
So what comes after a possible development gap has been identified? A great place to start is with your family doctor, to ensure that there is no underlying medical issue having an impact on development. That being said, many programs can be accessed without a doctor’s referral. Given the challenges of even getting an appointment with a family doctor for a “non-emergency” appointment, it may be discouraging for parents, which is why it is important for parents and caregivers to understand that they can access services without a medical referral. I will not write about all of the different services, but the two most often accessed in most areas are speech and developmental services. In Leeds and Grenville we have a wonderful speech and language program called Language Express, the Ottawa program is called First Words. These are free programs that parents can self-refer to, or a teacher/caregiver can make a referral with consent from the parent. Another program that is often utilized for early intervention services is the Infant and Child Development Program. Under the umbrella of that program they have many different specialists covering many aspects of development. This program is often the first intervention point for children with autism, but they do offer so much more, from the assistance of occupational and physical therapists, to coordination with speech and language services, and more. This program can also be accessed directly by a parent, or a teacher/caregiver can make a referral for the family, as long as they have consent.
The Language Express and First Words web sites are full of great information for all parents and caregivers:
You can find out more about accessing Infant and Child Development Program in Ontario here: http://www.oaicd.ca/icd?tid=679