Sunday, February 13, 2011
Childhood / Early Development and Future Relationships
Early childhood development can affect future relationships. Here are more book excerpts:
Our relationships might eventually include friends, teachers, coworkers, and clients. However, our initial relationships tend to be familial and customary connections. Studies indicate that the relationships formed during the first two to three years of life affect our future social skills. Childhood is a time of learning essential skills, ideally in a safe family setting. For children with autism spectrum disorders, early intervention and social skills reinforcement are particularly important.
• Early relationships affect future connections
• Families are small, safe social groups
• Parents and siblings can help teach social skills
• Teaching is more “active” and “conscious” when supporting someone with an ASD
• As connections expand beyond families, the challenges become more complex
Our families prepare us for both the largest communities and the smallest. Relationships are built progressively from our small family social group to larger groups, and then many of us return to the smallest group: a life partner and a family of our own. Different relationship circles are discussed in detail in upcoming sections of this text.
While researchers are still engaged in the “nature vs. nature” debate, most agree that both affect children and their social skills development. However, we do know that autism affects cognitive and emotional development, generally causing some delays regardless of how ideal a family situation is.
I’ve found that many parents are unaware that developmental milestones associated with social skills and tolerances appear within the first year of life. Parents often tell me, “We always thought our child would catch up,” or they turn to the maxim, “Everyone develops at a different rate.” While some developmental differences fall within norms, researchers have determined that milestones aren’t as varied as once thought. Being the slightest bit behind these milestones can indicate a developmental delay. Generally, parents begin to notice the delays at one year to eighteen months — which is overlaps a great many events in a child’s life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are specific traits parents and caregivers should monitor during the first year of life. A 2004 Canadian study of 150 infants found that trained researchers, using video and special training, could identify autism much earlier than previously possible. Currently, most children with autism are not diagnosed until after the age of three. Earlier detection could help parents and health care experts plan early interventions. Some of the milestones identified are provided in the following sections.
During the first three to four weeks, a child should respond to external stimuli. The child should also begin moving in ways that reflect any motion around the child. The children later diagnosed with developmental disorders were less responsive and less active than their peers at one month. Some of the developmental milestone warning signs include:
• Doesn’t blink when shown a bright light
• Doesn’t respond to loud sounds
• Doesn’t focus and follow a nearby object moving side to side
• Rarely moves arms and legs; seems stiff
• Seems excessively loose in the limbs, or floppy
Limb control is important because of the role gestures play in human communication. The inability to control hands, in particular, negatively affects communication. Also, children with decreased motor activity at one month seem to develop less fine motor control later in life. This affects activities such as handwriting and drawing.
I didn’t cry or vocalize at birth, a clear indicator that something was seriously wrong. I also had poor muscle control, which was attributed to muscular damage at birth. Researchers studying home videos have discovered that many autistic individuals exhibited minor delays within the first month of life, but parents didn’t realize how important these delays were.
Between 12 and 16 weeks, a child should be extremely engaged and aware of his or her surroundings. Any delay by three months must be taken seriously. Researchers have found this period reveals developmental delays parents often overlook. The milestone warning signs researchers have identified include:
• Doesn’t seem to respond to loud sounds consistently
• Doesn’t notice hands or feet by two months
• Doesn’t follow moving objects with her eyes by two to three months
• Doesn’t smile at the sound of a parental voice by two months
• Doesn’t smile at people by three months
• Doesn’t babble by three to four months
• Doesn’t imitate any “human” sounds by four months
• Frightened by new faces or surroundings
The first three months help a child understand interacting with their world. The impulse to “mirror” other humans appears within these months, an indication that mirroring is at least in part instinctive. Children with ASDs don’t exhibit this mirroring to the same degree as their peers, if they exhibit mirroring at all. Because mirroring can be subtle, parents do not always notice that a child isn’t mirroring.
A child might vocalize while parents or siblings are speaking, yet these might not be attempts to mirror. Honestly, the distinctions between mirror behaviors and random acts aren’t always obvious to untrained observers. Even trained observers rely on video recordings to make definitive judgments about developmental milestones.
Remember that even adults “mirror” their family, friends, and coworkers. It is an unconscious skill for most people, but a conscious skill that must be taught to some autistic individuals. If the skill doesn’t develop at an early age, the sooner it can be taught to a child the more effective learned mirroring can be. It is still a form of conscious mimicry, but it can help a person with an ASD succeed at school and work.
The first birthday of a child marks numerous developmental milestones. By the first year, a child has learned communication is both non-verbal and verbal. The non-verbal develops early, and the majority of human communication is non-verbal. We rely on gestures, signals, facial expression, and non-linguistic vocalizations for much of what we express to others. A one-year-old child should be mastering these non-verbal skills. The one-year milestone warning signs include:
• Does not learn to use gestures, such as waving or shaking head
• Does not point to objects or pictures to communicate
• Says no clear single words (variations of “momma” and “daddy” are common)
If we know the warning signs for developmental delays, it is also useful to know the expected behaviors from a child at one year. Failing to meet the majority of these milestones can indicate a potential developmental delay. It is important that families and caregivers look for these milestones by a year of age:
• Pays increasing attention to speech
• Responds to simple verbal requests
• Responds to “no” (even if protesting)
• Uses simple gestures, such as shaking head for “no”
• Babbles with inflection and diction
• Uses “extra-linguistic” exclamations, such as “oh-oh!” or giggling
• Tries to imitate words
• Imitates gestures of friends and family
• Enjoys imitating people in play
• Prefers mother and/or regular caregiver over all others
Early Development and Future Relationships
Why should a book on relationships include a chapter on childhood development? Because, as the introduction states, relationships are based on and maintained by communication and general social skills. Our relationships are not based logic, however ideal that would be. Instead, relationships are strongest when the colleagues, friends, or lovers understand and relate to each other.
A person’s social future and relationship “success” is not set during the first year of his or her life. However, it is best to notice any issues so physical or neurological challenges can be identified and treated. Deaf children, for example, might exhibit signs of developmental delays caused by their auditory impairment.
For autistic children, recognizing the development delays within the first two years greatly improve the effectiveness of social skills and relationship therapies. Yes, there are therapies that can help autistic children learn to form relationships with their parents and caregivers during their toddler years. Specialized play therapies, for example, help autistic children focus on a toy and a parent. Research reveals that such therapies lose effectiveness as a child ages, as judged by how quickly the therapies alter behavior. Basically, it is easier to affect a mind the younger a person is.
I am not a therapist or psychologist, but I am a language arts expert. There is a tremendous amount of research finding that young children learn languages with an ease adults generally lack. A family counselor explained to me that non-verbal communication is a language, a symbolic language. That is why young children also have an easier time with sign language than adults. It is reasonable, then, to assume that children are better at obtaining all forms of communication.