Health Matters: Child development for parents and grandparents

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As parents and grandparents, we love to see our babies smile for the first time, clap for the first time, crawl, and walk. While each of these firsts are touching, they are also extraordinarily important. Every seemingly small milestone is an important building block for more complex skills later on. And how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves in the first months and years of his life can predict how he will likely develop later on.

If you are the parent or grandparent of a young child, it is wise to take a moment to educate yourself regarding the resources and information available related to child development. Knowing the milestones for each age and acting early, if your child is not exhibiting the typical behaviors, is the best way to ensure that she regains developmental ground and reaches her full potential.

You are your child's first and best resource in healthy development. Talk to and play with your child no matter what age, even very young children benefit from play and frequent face-to- face interactions.

Play and "conversations" with your baby encourage their development and provide the information you need to recognize a delay when it is most easily treatable.

Your pediatrician is another fantastic resource for information about your child's development. Make sure your child attends his regular checkups. During these visits, the pediatrician will ask about your child's behaviors. For instance, for a child four months old, your pediatrician may ask, "Does he smile? Does he babble or make noises?" During the visit, the pediatrician will also check a number of skills.

Most babies in this age group follow moving objects with their eyes, reach, hold on to, and shake small objects or toys, for instance.

The website CDC.gov features lots of information and resources you can use to learn about child development. To find them, search "act early" from the CDC homepage. There are free worksheets to help you track your child's skills, lists of milestones, fact sheets, and tips for helping your child and speaking with your pediatrician.

If you notice something that you think your child should be able to do but cannot, contact your pediatrician right away. Acting on apparent delays early can prevent greater difficulty down the road and put your child on track for healthy development.

The pediatrician can connect you with resources in your area. If your child is under three, your pediatrician will likely direct you to the Early Intervention Program in your state. For children over three, help is accessed through the public school system.

In many cases, a child development specialists from Children's Integrated Services/Early Intervention will come to your home to screen then evaluate your child. By coming to your home, the therapists see your child in her everyday environment to get the best sense of her capabilities.

The developmental educator will determine if a specialty evaluation is necessary. Specialty evaluations include, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other developmental resources depending on your child's needs. Early Intervention has access to a variety of services including audiology, assistive technology, and vision services.

If the educator finds that there is cause for concern, she will provide therapy to the child and caregivers by suggesting strategies that the caregivers can implement in their daily activities. In some cases, Early Intervention will assist with developing a team of several specialists to provide different therapies as often as several times each week. Each one will work with you and your child to set goals, develop a plan, and guide you through exercises you can do with your child.

The single most important characteristics in a child's success gaining or regaining developmental ground is parental involvement. Your willingness to carry over the treatment activities between the home visits will have a tremendous impact on your child's advancement.

Already curious about your child's progress? Find the milestone list for your child's age at CDC.gov.

— Jennie D'Aiuto is program coordinator for Children's Integrated Services, Early Intervention for Southern Vermont. She can be reached at 802-447-2768. CIS/Early Intervention offers a playgroup from 10:30 a.m. to noon Mondays at the Bennington Free Library.


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