Introduction - About Child Development
Anyone who has ever witnessed a child lifting his or her head for the first time,
rolling over, or struggling to take his or her first steps is undoubtedly struck with
the amazing innate capacity of the developing child. Development most often
occurs in rather predictable stages. Although every child develops in a unique
way, all children are expected to interact with their environment at an age
Looking at a child's functional development involves
observing whether or not the child has mastered certain
and expectations for his or her age.
For example, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics,
by the end of seven months an infant should be able to roll
from front to back and from back to front, use sounds to show
pleasure and displeasure, find an object that is partially
hidden, and enjoy social play. With this understanding of
typical child development, a child may have a special need
when he or she has a delay in one or more areas of development
Physical Development and
When a child turns over, or pulls him or herself to a standing position for the first
time, we see physical and motor development in action. This area of maturity
involves the growth and development of the body and brain and how they interact
with one another. Milestones such as reaching, sitting, crawling, walking, running
and jumping are part of a child's
Thinking and Learning:
Cognitive Development Skills
Cognitive Development involves the mental and intellectual growth of the child.
Like with other areas of
cognitive development occurs in stages.
From the very early
sensorimotor stage in early infancy where a baby learns about
his or her environment through the senses, to the capacity for abstract thinking
found in the formal
operational stage of adolescence and adulthood, children
progress through these stages depending on level of maturity, experience, and
other factors such as interaction with caregivers. Mastery in various tasks of
learning, memory, reasoning and problem solving are evidence that a child's
cognitive development may be on target.
Language Development Skills
Language is the means by which we
communicate our thoughts, feelings, needs
and wants with one another. It is our most human characteristic, essential to all
human relationships. There are many different ways that people use
communicate. Speech, gesturing, sign language and writing are a few.
Technically, language is the code made up of a set of rules that include what
gestures, utterances, or words mean and how to combine these to express
thoughts or desires.
The ability to
communicate begins early in a newborn's life and like other areas of
development, follows predictable patterns. From early cries to indicate needs, to
the development of babbling, then single words and ultimately complex
sentences, human beings are designed to
communicate with others.
The Senses: Vision, Hearing and Touch (Including
Infants and young children first learn about the external and internal world
through their senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell as sensory
information is transmitted to the brain.
Sensory Integration involves the ability to
take in the information gathered through the senses from the internal and external
world and put it together in a meaningful way. The complex interplay between the
various senses is necessary as the child learns about, acts and responds to the
environment in appropriate ways. For example, a baby's sense of sight will help
him or her reach out for a rattle on the table. The sense of touch will enable him to
feel for and grab the rattle and to determine how much pressure to exert to hold
and shake the rattle. The sense of hearing will allow the baby to distinguish the
sound made by the shaking rattle. As all of this sensory information is processed,
the child learns how to interpret and respond to various environmental cues.
Relating to Self and Others:
Social Development Skills and
Emotional Development Skills
Donald W. Winnicott, the renowned British psychoanalyst, once said 'A baby can't
exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship.' (D.W. Winnicott; The Child, the
Family and the Outside World.) Human beings need relationships in order to
survive and grow.
A baby's first relationship is the relationship with his or her primary caregiver,
most often the mother. It is in the context of this environment that the infant's
social development and
emotional development occur. In a good enough
relationship, the primary caregiver and baby learn to respond to one another. The
infant coos. The mother coos back. The baby smiles. The mother smiles and talks
to her child in response. The baby giggles in delight. They hold each other's gaze
in a playful exchange of mutual pleasure.
As the child matures, the exchange becomes more sophisticated. The child
imitates the mother as she talks on the phone and offers hugs of affection. With
the help of the mother's
attuned response, the young child begins to put his or her
emotions to words. The tightness in the tummy is understood as feeling scared.
Laughter becomes associated with feeling happy. What were once only known and
felt as bodily sensations, now become understandable feelings. This is the
development of affect.
Daily Living Skills:
Adaptive development refers to the ability of the developing child to care for him
or herself in age appropriate ways.
Mastered skills progress in the area of feeding,
for example, from feeding self through scooping up food to using two fingers
pinched together to pick up food, and later using a spoon or fork. Later the child
acquires more sophisticated
self-care skills such as teeth brushing or being able
to prepare simple snacks.
The Advantage of Using a Functional Developmental Approach
The advantage of using a
functional developmental approach to defining children
with Special Needs, and to evaluating and treating them, is that it is consistent
with the reality that every child is a unique individual with specific strengths and
weaknesses. No two children are alike, even children with specific known
disorders. For example, Adam and Katrina, both four years old, have been
diagnosed with an
Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Adam has now developed
age appropriate verbal skills, but he has trouble holding a crayon and copying shapes.
He falls often when he plays. Katrina is mostly
non-verbal, yet she has no trouble
running around the playground and she loves to draw pictures. She can copy
almost any design with apparent ease.
By defining these children on the basis of exactly what they currently can and
cannot do and basing
intervention on their functional development would take
their individual differences into consideration, rather than simply providing the
same generic treatments for both of these children with an autistic spectrum
disorder. The team of professionals who are assigned to helping Katrina would
create an individualized treatment plan for her that emphasizes the development
of language. While Adam's treatment would focus more on his
fine motor skills and
gross motor skills. As such, each child's areas of strengths can be enhanced
and their unique difficulties and challenges can be addressed with specific
treatments and services.
Another advantage of defining children with special needs in this manner and
evaluating children this way is that it leaves room for improvement in all areas of
functional development. A diagnosis is often viewed as a permanent condition
with little change expected. Yet, children grow and change, even a child with
special needs. With the appropriate individualized services, Katrina can improve
her language skills that will enable her to communicate more effectively with the
world. Adam can strengthen his fine and gross motor skills so he can learn to
write legibly and move about freely on the playground, thus enhancing his
success in school.
Seeing the unique functioning of each child helps parents and professionals to
tailor a program to help get their development back on track. In doing so, each
child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential through a specially
tailored program and in many cases a child may even outgrow being identified as
a child with special needs.
A description of a child with special needs who was helped by professionals who
Functional Developmental Approach is Stephanie's Story.
Stephanie's Story: A Child with Delays in Functional Development
Two and a half year old Stephanie is perhaps the most beautiful child I have ever
known, with wide brown eyes and rich chestnut hair that brushes her shoulders
with gentle curls. The friends and family who know her think she should be a child
model, because she naturally embodies that irresistible charm and innocence that
make people break into a spontaneous smile of delight and want to pick her up
and hold her. Yet, paired with the gift of her natural beauty is a child with
Stephanie was slower than average to achieve various
such as turning over, crawling and walking. She still walks with an awkward
and falls often. She has a difficult time holding a crayon and frequently drops
things. Stephanie began speaking later than most children her age. Because of the
difficulty she had expressing her needs, she had frequent and intense temper
tantrums and fits of rage. And when all attempts at communication failed, she
retreated into a world of her own. Now, at two and a half years old she has a
vocabulary of 50 -100 words but she still doesn't speak in 3 word sentences,
typical for children her age. Her father, a lawyer, and her mother, a schoolteacher,
are both very concerned about some of the unusual behaviors they notice, yet,
each child develops at a different pace, they have said as they try to reassure
themselves. Most of all they want the best for their daughter and they have tried to
accept Stephanie's unique way of being in the world.
Her introduction to preschool was a challenge with the requirements to interact
with peers, follow instructions and focus in a group setting. She was fortunate to
have a teacher who accepted her and yet recognized her need to be tested.
Although Stephanie was never given a specific
diagnosis, a local psychologist
determined that she had
developmental delays in
motor development. She was given an
IFSP, The Individual Family Service Plan by the
Early Head Start Intervention Program, complete with services to help her to reach her