Raising Awareness on Developmental Disabilities
By Jacqui de Beer (Speech and Language Therapist and Audiologist)
Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. They begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.
Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving “bye-bye” are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, talk, behave, and move. Children develop at their own pace, so it’s impossible to tell exactly when a child will learn a given skill, however, the milestones give a general idea of the changes to expect as a child gets older.
If a child has a developmental delay, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Early identification and intervention can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills, as well as reduce the need for costly interventions over time.
Most developmental disabilities begin before a baby is born, but some can happen after birth because of injury or infection. They are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors, including:
- Parental health and behaviour (such as smoking and drinking) during pregnancy
- Complications during birth
- Infections the mother might have during pregnancy or the baby might have very early in life
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
A child who:
- sits up, crawls, or walks later than other children
- learns to talk late, or has trouble speaking
- finds it hard to remember things
- has trouble understanding social rules
- has trouble seeing the results of their actions
- has trouble solving problems
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
If a child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or if you think there could be a problem with the child’s development, talk to a doctor (pediatrician) and share your concerns. Don’t wait!
It is very important that the child has a comprehensive evaluation to find out about his or her strengths and needs. Since no specialist has all the necessary skills, many professionals might be involved. Tests in areas such as neurology (the nervous system), psychology, hearing, speech and language, vision and occupational therapy are useful.
TREATMENT – THERAPY
Once the necessary tests and consultations have been carried out, the professionals put together the results, and jointly, with the family and the school, develop a comprehensive treatment and education plan. Parental involvement is crucial to the success of a child’s progress. Children who progress quickest and with the longest-lasting results are those whose parents have been involved. Ask the therapist for suggestions on how you can help your child at home. For instance, it’s important to help your child do the at-home stimulation activities that the therapist suggests to ensure continued progress and carry-over of newly learned skills.
SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPY
Apart from Developmental Disabilities, Speech and Language Therapists also provide services regarding the prevention, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of:
Speech Difficulties or Disorders, for example:
- Phonological Processes
Language (Receptive and Expressive) Difficulties or Disorders, for example:
- Developmental Language Delays / Disorders (Early Communication Intervention)
- Pre-School Language Disorders
- Language Learning Disorders
Other Difficulties or Disorders, for example:
- Reading and Spelling Difficulties
- Auditory Perception and Processing Disorders
- Attention and listening difficulties
- Oral Motor Difficulties (e.g. low / increased oral tone)