If your child seems to be developing differently from other children you may suspect that they have a disability. If this is your first child, you may feel unsure how to tell whether your child is developing normally.
Neuro-typical, (ie. normal), child development in the early years:
Six weeks – neck muscles develop so that most babies can balance their heads a short time if they are kept still. They start smiling when they hear familiar voices and see familiar faces.
Eight to ten weeks – babies can focus better and follow moving objects with their eyes. This is the beginning of hand eye co-ordination. They start to make sounds of pleasure usually when you are playing or holding them. By ten weeks they respond to your talk with their own sounds and start practicing sounds when on their own.
Three months – neck and shoulder muscles get stronger so that most babies can control their heads completely and will be able to roll from their backs onto their sides.
Babies begin to know one face from another and will soon prefer familiar faces to strangers’.
They will swipe at an object but will not be able to hold it yet.
From three months the language learning process becomes very clear. Babies will make a lot of babbling noises, beginning with cooing noises and then adding harder sounds.
Four to six months – babies can work out how far away an object is and are beginning to grasp objects. At six months they grasp objects with their whole hand and use their cupped hands to scoop things up. New sounds will be added to the babbling noises.
Six - eight months – babies are beginning to be strong enough to sit up unaided but balance will still be a problem. Some will be trying to crawl. They recognise familiar voices and by the eighth month will take an interest in adult conversation. They will have a strong bond with their main carers and get upset when you are out of sight. They can manage finger food by themselves because between seven and eight months they are making use of their fingers and thumbs for grasping and holding onto things.
Nine months to one year – by nine months most babies will be able to sit up without difficulty, and by ten months they may stand. They will be using their hands to point and poke and make gestures such as waving. They will be able to pick up the tiniest object and eventually they will learn how to let go of objects too.
Babies understand a lot more words than they use at first. They use their first real spoken words in their tenth or eleventh month but it might be hard to spot them amongst their ‘chatting’ sounds. Babies may be more worried by strangers as they reach their first year and can become clingy with you.
One to two years – sometime during the first year babies become toddlers and will be walking independently on average between 14 and 16 months. They generally need less sleep and are very active, exploring their surroundings and learning about the different weights and textures of things. By two toddlers make great strides in understanding whether objects are the same or different from each other and will be beginning to group them in their minds.
Some children will gain enough control to come out of nappies but many children will take another year or two. Toddlers are not ready to play with other toddlers but enjoy playing alongside them. Language takes off generally at around twenty months and by two the toddler is likely to be adding second words and soon after short sentences. If your child is not talking at all by the time they are two and a half, then ask your doctor or clinic for a developmental check-up.
Three to four years - by the third year the young child will be beginning to understand abstract ideas like “soon” or “more”. Their language will expand to take in new concepts such as “heavy’ and “light”, to describe things that are not in the same room, and to explain feelings and ideas. “Why” and “what’s that?” will be their favourite phrases as they expand their vocabulary and understanding. Most children of this age talk all the time. Imaginative or ‘pretend’ play will make use of all this language. By four they will enjoy playing with other children, learning to share and take turns.
If your child has autism, finding out as quickly as possible will make it easier to get the right help for them.
Children with autism cross the ability range. Some can be gifted in different subject areas but the majority have difficulties relating to other people, many may never learn to speak and may never be independent. This wide range is called the autistic spectrum. At its most profound, people with autism may be disruptive and unpredictable and may be aggressive to others and/or themselves and their environment. They may seem to be living in a world of their own. Their lives, and those of others who care for them, particularly families, can be extremely stressful.
Children with autism have difficulties in three main areas:
- social skills such as making friends and interacting with other people
- communication – explaining how they feel and think including problems with speech and other ways of communicating, such as facial expressions and gestures. Some children simply do not learn to talk
- imagination – understanding that other people have thoughts and feelings. Children with autism can be very rigid and may have fixations on different objects or topics
Children with autism always have difficulties in these three areas but they show up very differently from child to child.
Children with autism have an individual way of looking at the world. Some have particular strengths such as an ability to focus on detail and concentrate for a long while on one thing; some have a talent for learning facts and particular skills. Many have quite severe deficits in all three main areas.
Children with autism may react differently to sounds, sights, smell, touch and taste, which affects their response to these sensations. They may also have unusual sleep patterns and behaviour.
It can be hard to diagnose autism in very young children because the age at which children typically learn to walk, talk and play can vary. One child may say little until they are two and then start to speak in sentences; some children may be walking before their first birthday and others may be 18 months before they start. Children may speak late for all sorts of reasons: they may be busy learning other things such as walking; they may be twins who often develop language later; if your family is bilingual, they may be learning two languages at once. Some children may have less experience of face-to-face talk with those in immediate contact with them. Boys often learn language later than girls so remember, the stages below are just averages; most children will be quicker or slower at reaching them. If you are worried that your child is not developing in the same way as other children, ask for a check up from your doctor or clinic.
An assessment is the first step to finding out. This is a check on how your child is developing in different areas such as their social, physical and learning skills.