Early Identification of Child Developmental Delays – The Pros and Cons

Developmental delay is when a child is delayed in one or more areas of their development. There are a number of areas of development which may be affected. These are a child’s cognitive development, physical development, communication and language, and social and emotional development. There are specific developmental milestones a child is expected to reach at specific times in their lives. If there is a deviation from these typical milestones, their rates and sequences, there maybe signs for concern. 

Early identification of children with developmental delays is important in the early stages as it facilitates early intervention. Early intervention refers to the services established and designed specifically to identify and treat such developmental delays. The earlier delays are identified the quicker professionals can intervene in order to work on the identified concerns, correctly supporting children and their families and also the child’s early years setting with plans and programs specifically designed for the child. If further help is required this can be organised at an early stage as well. Delays in support are hugely avoided.

In a research study done by Christine Yoshinaga-Itano et al (1998), on Language of Early and Later Identified Children with Hearing Loss, it was found that after comparing deaf children who received early identification to those who did not – results showed that “Children whose hearing losses were identified by 6 months of age demonstrated significantly better language scores than children identified after 6 months of age.” (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/102/5/1161.short)

Therefore clarifying that early identification leading to early intervention, results in more positive outcomes in child development.   

However, prompting for early intervention may also turn out to be problematic. Raising alarm bells too early may lead to wrong diagnoses and treatment. A child may naturally be developing at a slower pace in a certain area, though other areas of development maybe at the correct rate and sequence. Children do not develop skills and behaviors by a strict timetable, their delays maybe short-lived – yet by intervening too early children are not being given the opportunity to develop at their own rate.

Families and other adults around the child may be looking too deep into the situation. They may have specific expectation from the child through prior experience or knowledge, or through comparisons with friend’s children or siblings. These expectations maybe reason for unnecessary concerns. A child maybe wrongly labelled as ‘slow’ due to these expectations. Practitioners and agencies may have a lack of knowledge or insufficient observational reports therefore prompting wrong diagnoses and treatment.  

There are also risks associated with late recognition of developmental delays. We may be opening up possibilities of further delays in other areas of development. Developmental delays in one area of child development, often means that there may be a knock on effect where other areas of development may also be affected. For instance delays in speech often results in delays in communication, and social and emotional development. Interaction with others is not being able to be facilitated therefore the child continues to miss out on communication opportunities. 

If late recognition of delays occurs, intervention is also delayed and this can seriously affect long-term progress in all areas, i.e. educational progress and in the work force. 

Problems in later life may also be evident. Delays maybe misunderstood as behavioral issues, the child maybe wrongly labelled – children may naturally fit themselves in to the labelled behavior. This may lead to issues for children when they reach their teens and adult life – becoming ‘delinquents’ or ‘criminals’ due to being misunderstood in their early years, i.e. Labeling Theory; 

“Labeling theory is the theory of how the self-identity and behaviour of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them…. Labeling theory holds that deviance is not inherent to an act, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labeling_theory)

Late recognition of delays may also affect a child’s confidence and self-esteem causing them problems in building relationships. It may also cause them to become isolated for fear of neglect, being bullied or made fun of due to them being ‘different’ to others.

In early years settings, children with developmental delays are normally identified in three main ways: during routine developmental surveillance or screening; following parental concern; and after third parties such as early years teachers or nursery care professionals raise concerns. An important step to improve the correct and timely identification of developmental delays is by educating the parents on what to look out for, what we have to offer as early years setting and where we can turn for professional support, diagnoses and care.

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