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Understanding Development

If your child has an additional need one of the first signs you might notice is that your child is not developing at the same pace as other children and young people their age.

It is normal for children to have strengths in different areas of their development. A child may be slower in reaching milestones in one or more of these.

  • Thinking skills – so they can learn, explore and understand
  • Speech and language – being able to use and understand language – starting with babbling and cooing as a baby.
  • Social and emotional skills –being able to express and control feelings and make relationships with others
  • Movement – using small muscle groups like in the hands (fine motor)and big muscle groups to sit and walk (gross motor).

Most children given time and extra help will catch up. If a child does not catch up in one of these areas it is called a developmental delay. If they are not catching up in more than one area it is called a global developmental delay.

If you are worried about your child’s development talk to their nursery or school setting as a first step. You can also get in touch with our services via Just One Number to speak to a health professional about your worries.

Knowing you and professionals agree there is a cause for concern about your child’s development is hard.However this is the first important step to finding out how to help them. After an assessment the right services can get involved to support you and your child as soon as possible.

Children progress in their own time. Parents, carers, family and friends can really help children and young people reach their own potential.

It is natural to compare your child with others their age. It is often not helpful because all children are so individual in their abilities and interests.

If your child does have some developmental delay try and concentrate on helping them achieve their next step forward. Although it may take longer you can celebrate and enjoy progress big and small together.

Children learn best through fun and play. Take a look at our Talk and Play pages.

  • Spending time with your child as they explore the world around them can give them the confidence to try new things. Give your child opportunities where they can look, listen and feel (they will probably put toys in their mouth too – as an extra way of finding out about something). Talk with them about the experience.

    Start small when you are trying to help them achieve a new skill. For example; you might want to build a brick tower together. You would begin with them holding and feeling the brick first. It may take time for them to confidently handle the brick.

    When children have some developmental delay it can take a lot of patience for them, and for you to reach their goal. Tiny steps and lots of praise mean that you can both take pride in each stage.

  • Being able to communicate our thoughts, needs and feelings makes life easier. For some children and young people this is more difficult and they do not develop speech and language at the same pace as their peers.

    All children benefit from hearing lots of sounds and speech.  Having you read and sing to them, and chat about what is happening and what you are doing helps them learn the rhythms of speech and language. There are lots of tips on our 'Talk and Play' pages.

    Help your child to enjoy their voice – respond to the sounds they make. Listen out for patterns in their sounds – do they link to a particular feeling or need?

    You are the expert in your child – focus on the signs they give you by watching and listening to;

    •  Their facial expressions.
    •  Body language.
    •  Sound making.

    This helps you understand each other better. Your child will know they can rely on you to try and work out what they need and how they feel. Let others who take care of your child know what to look out for too.

    Your child may benefit from specialist speech and language support – you can discuss this with professionals already involved in your child’s life at school or health appointments or you can call Just One Number to discuss your concerns.

  • Your child may find it harder to show how they feel, understand how others feel and / or manage their feelings in the way other children their age do.

    This can be hard for parents who worry how their child will cope as they grow. Take a look at our 'Behaviour' page for more information.

    It can take a lot of practice for some children to understand the ‘rules’ of how to behave and some children may struggle with this. It can mean changing your expectations.

    Be realistic about what your child can manage right now. Having some positive trips out maybe to the park at a quiet time, or to the library can give you both more confidence to give new things a try.

    Being calm and keeping your boundaries the same will help your child begin to understand what is expected of them.

    Sometimes for any number of reasons your child may not be able to cope with a situation at a particular time. It is ok to step away from whatever is triggering the upset and try another day.

    Parents tell us that sometimes they feel judged by other people when difficult behaviours happen out and about. You and your child have just as much right to be out and about spending time together as others. It is good for your child’s development to spend time around others. You know the challenges and difficulties they face. Be proud that you both keep trying, don’t let other people’s lack of understanding get in your way.
    There are some ideas on how to respond to hurtful comments *here*.

  • Development of movement is divided into two groups;

    • Fine Motor – this is the development of small muscles in the hands and wrists that allow children to hold and pick things up. 
    • Gross motor – is the development of bigger muscles in arms and legs as well as body strength. 

    Fine motor skill delay can be noticed early on, or not be obvious until your child struggles to master day to day activities like getting their food to their mouth.

    Give your child lots of chances to practice using their hands and fingers –helping them hold toys of different shapes and textures. 

    Gross motor / big movement delays can be hard to spot because the range of development is so wide – babies might walk any time between 9 and 15 months or sometimes later. This may not be a sign of a development problem. 

    If you are worried then you can call Just One Number to discuss it with a health professional or speak with the nursery or school team.

    Giving your child the chance to build strength can help their development – even if your child has physical challenges finding exercise they can enjoy will help build muscle.

    Swimming often works well because the body is supported by the water - as well as being a fun thing to do together. 

    Your child may be referred to a physical therapist for more suggestions to help them with their movement skills.



Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

The Patient Activation Measure (PAM) Health Questionnaire will help you to think about your knowledge, skills and confidence in understanding and supporting your baby or child’s health. The results of this can help us, to support you, in setting goals and priorities in a way that is right for you and your family. On completion of the questions you will be signposted to some self care resources which are tailored to your responses. This will help you to take steps to improve your family's health and wellbeing. *Click Here* to find out more. 


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