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Developmental Planning: An Introduction for Parents

By Jim Noland, CRTS, ATP
WebMD Feature from “Exceptional Parent” Magazine

There is so much to learn and carefully consider during the first years of having an exceptional child. The amount of information to digest and decisions to be made are often overwhelming. What parents need is a map that helps them put it all together. Having a big picture or general framework to help organize the sea of information that comes flooding in can provide a small compass in a trying and confusing time.

Emotional Minefield

Comparing your child, who may be delayed in their development, to a typically developing sibling or neighbor child can be an emotional minefield. You may have been told not to compare your child to other children because of the differences and the fact that it may not be helpful to compare. The opposite, however, can be true. Knowing what a typically developing child could be doing at a certain age, or developmental milestone, can often be helpful in gauging your situation and help you know when to work toward an activity that mimics an activity that may be delayed.

Developmental milestones are behaviors and activities a child exhibits that are considered to be significant. The milestone is a new behavior or understanding that shows progress in the child’s ability to think, interpret or move. These milestones are generally related to a typically developing child’s age.

They are like a “rule of thumb” about when a child may be able to perform a certain activity like sitting unsupported or behave in a certain way, for example being aware of a person in a different room. Furthermore, the term “Developmental Delay” simply means a child so far has not achieved the milestone at the expected age of a typically developing child.

It is important to consider that a child develops in many different ways simultaneously. We often think of the physical act of walking, standing, or sitting independently as the developmental milestone. Your child is doing so much more. They are learning to experience the world from a different body and visual or sensory orientation. They are learning about spatial relationships and other things like object permanence (remembering and relating to things they remember are there without looking at them).

As they move and experience the world from different positions, their body develops a broader repertoire of movement experiences and problem solving skills by being positioned on their tummies, sitting, and standing. Experiencing gravity in those positions forces them to learn new skills and relate to their environment in an entirely different manner. Those are thinking or cognitive activities as well as opportunities to strengthen and learn about managing their bodies.

If their primary experience has been from lying on their back because of medical complications, they will have learned that this position is the only way to experience the world and when they communicate, generally people come into their visual spatial field above them. Compare that to the child, as he or she is medically able, who experiences interaction with people and things from a stable and supported sitting or standing position while positioned in a stander or supportive seating. They learn and experience the world and communicate to the best of their ability with those around them much differently.

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