Early Learners vs. Late Converters

baby-with-motherBy having benchmarks in mind, parents can take the necessary steps to help their child move forward when they don’t reach learning and developmental milestones during the typical window of time.

When a child is born, their parents, and society as a whole have a general expectation regarding how that child will develop, and when they will discover certain skills. Anyone who is part of that child’s world will normally wait in anticipation to hear that first word, the first step, counting, and the alphabet among many other milestones. Expectations are often based on other children in the family, or even the children of the parents’ friends. By having these general benchmarks in mind, parents can be aware and take the necessary steps to help their child move forward when they don’t reach learning and developmental milestones during the typical window of time that other kids do.

Identifying Expectations

While all children develop at different rate to some extent, there is some danger of falling too much into an attitude of “he’ll get there when he gets there” when it comes to reaching educational and developmental milestones. In the first six weeks, babies should watch things that are within a foot of their face, respond to the sound of familiar voices, and enjoy being held. By 3 months they are following sounds with their eyes, discovering their hands, and smiling in response to pleasurable things, such as a parent’s smile, music, or even just talking.

At six months, a child learns to respond to their own reflection. They should be imitating a wider range of facial expressions and make more distinguishable sounds, such as vowel sounds, squealing, or gurgling. By nine months babies usually attempt crawling or move however they can, they begin to recognize others feelings based on the tone of their voice, and communicate through gestures as well as babbling. By a year, they usually crawl in full force, walk while holding furniture or even on their own. First words often emerge, as well as definitive responses to words such as “no,” “bye-bye,” and their names.

Between ages 1-2 children show interest in manipulating objects by making marks with crayons, stacking blocks, or trying simple shape puzzles. Vocabulary develops as well, building to around 50 words by the time they turn two, including short sentences. By three they can use language to talk about short term memories, they understand directions and decide whether or not to follow them, and the majority of their speech should be clear to others.

Between 3-5 children are especially inquisitive and imaginative, asking questions, telling stories, singing songs, and playing games such as hide and seek or make believe. They also learn to share, although they might not always want to. Sentence structure becomes stronger by age seven. Curiosity, cooperation, and competitiveness make the years between 5-7 great for beginning to learn basic reading, writing, and math skills. They understand grading systems, learn to make friends, mimic others, and shape their self-image based on what other children think.

Why Meeting Milestones is Important

If a child misses a milestone by a couple of months, there usually isn’t a concern, but if their skills and interests aren’t anywhere near their peers, there should be a discussion with the child’s pediatrician about how to address developmental delays. In previous generations, it was believed that some kids were just “late bloomers.” For example, there was not a big concern if a child learned to read at age 9 or 10 rather than between 5 and 7. While later learning isn’t impossible, it is more difficult, because the brain is prime for certain learning at different times in a child’s life. With reading, the intense curiosity and desire to please makes it a perfect time to learn the foundational reading and math skills. In one study that tracked reading skills of over 50 children between first and fourth grade found that well over 80% of the time, those who were good readers in first grade were still good readers in fourth grade, and those who were poor readers in first grade, were still poor readers in fourth grade.

Developmental and educational problems do not simply fix themselves in the vast majority of cases. Sometimes, intense tutoring is the answer for children to reach their full potential, other times, learning needs to be approached in a different way entirely, and guided by those who are experts in developmental disabilities or conditions including autism, dyslexia, ADHD, or other cognitive delays.

Reaching Out When Things Go Awry

Admitting that a child is different or developmentally behind other children is very difficult for most parents, but it is important to put those feelings aside as soon as problems become apparent in order to give the child the best chance at success. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for developmental delays, three times between 9 months and 30 months during their regular checkup. If a delay is suspected before age three children can often qualify for intervention services even without a formal diagnosis. If a concern is notable, it is best for the child to undergo an in depth developmental evaluation. If a delay is confirmed, therapy can address problems such as aggressiveness, self-injurious behavior, communication skills, and other behavior therapies. When intervention happens early, children and their parent and teachers have a greater ability to adapt to the world around them, develop some understanding of their condition, and develop a coping strategy together.