Development is a process whereby a young baby and child explores and learns and grows into adulthood. Individual skills are built up and combined to produce more sophisticated achievements.
Despite variability from child to child, there is a general order in the progressive development of skills. Simple skills precede the more difficult ones. We know that most children achieve these milestones at around a certain age and this is what we mean when we speak of typical development. Developmental differences in one or more areas of development may be identified in some children when compared to others of a similar age.
There can be a number of reasons for these developmental differences. Some children demonstrate a transient delay in their development due to premature birth, physical illness and prolonged hospitalisation, immaturity, family stress or lack of opportunities to learn. If the differences in development persist, it is usually related to problems in one or more areas: understanding and learning; moving; communication, hearing and seeing. An assessment is often needed to determine what area or areas are affected.
If you have a concern about your child’s development, that is, a concern about their ability to sit, crawl, stand, walk, talk, hear, listen, learn or play, ask your Maternal and Child Health Nurse or GP for a developmental assessment.
Families often state that the time it takes to get a formal diagnosis of a developmental disability is stressful.
Raising Children Network can help you to navigate your way through services and support for your child and for your whole family during this period.
Many children experience short term differences in development. For some children, these developmental issues persist and these children are identified as having a developmental disability.
Developmental disability has been defined in Australia as a severe, chronic disability attributable to intellectual and or physical impairment which occurs before 6 years of age (AIHW, 1997). Cerebral palsy, down syndrome, spina bifida and autism spectrum disorder are examples of conditions which result in a developmental disability. One of the most common causes is intellectual disability.
Children with persistent developmental differences require a developmental assessment which is often undertaken by a paediatrician. The doctor will take a medical history, observe the child, perform a physical examination and may order some relevant investigations such as blood tests. Hearing or vision testing may also be recommended.
The next stage is to gather information about the child’s skills across all areas of development and to understand how the child learns and relates to the family and those around him or her. This assessment stage will involve the child and family being seen by one or more of the following: occupational therapist; speech pathologist; physiotherapist; psychologist; teacher and social worker.
Supports and services
Many children with developmental differences/disability will need extra help in one or more areas of their development. Professionals work in partnership with parents in early intervention programs, helping them to understand their child’s development and special needs.
It is beneficial to have professionals close to home as they will understand local services and assist with your child’s needs which are not related to disability. We suggest that you have a GP, and are referred to local early intervention services. It may also be helpful to have a local paediatrician who can assist you to source resources for your child’s health and wellbeing. Many of these services may be community, school or council based.
Many professionals and services can provide support for your child with a disability and your family.
In particular, the
Raising Children Network Children with Disability Services and Support site
can help you to navigate your way through services and supports for your child with a disability and for your whole family.
The Neurodevelopment & Disability team are continually learning about developmental disorders and improving management, treatment and services. To contribute to this body of knowledge, Neurodevelopment & Disability conduct wide-ranging research studies together with our Campus partners the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and The University of Melbourne. If you are interested in learning more about the research we conduct, you can read about our current projects