Early Identification: Normal and Atypical Development
By: National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD)
Children gather information from people, things, and events in their environment. They organize this information in their minds, and code it in ways that keep it usable and easily understood. They match the information with what they've learned before, noticing similarities and differences, and store the information for future use. Once this process is complete, children behave in ways that suggest that learning has taken place.
Children's development usually follows a known and predictable course. The acquisition of certain skills and abilities is often used to gauge children's development. These skills and abilities are known as developmental milestones. Such things as crawling, walking, saying single words, putting words together into phrases and sentences, and following directions are examples of these predictable achievements. Although not all children reach each milestone at the same time, there is an expected time-frame for reaching these developmental markers.
The following points are important to understanding the nature and course of children's development.
The course of children's development is mapped using a chart of developmental milestones
These milestones are behaviors that emerge over time, forming the building blocks for growth and continued learning. Some of the categories within which these behaviors are seen include:
Some children may be very advanced in their use of oral language while others may first be discovering the power of spoken words. Some children may be advance in motor skills while others are reluctant to use play equipment or engage in building activities or crafts projects.
Patterns of growth within different children can also vary
Children who show strength in one area of development might be slower to develop skills in another. For example, a child who has wonderful ability to understand spoken language might struggle with verbal expression.
Culture and environment contribute to the ways children behave
The course of development can be greatly influenced by cultural and environmental factors. Behaviors that are acceptable in one environment may be inappropriate, even strange, in another. It is important to remember that differences in behavior do not always reflect differences in development.
|Behavior||Possible variations due to cultural/environmental influences|
|Making eye contact||Limited eye contact may show respect; maintaining eye contact may be an inappropriate way for children to interact with adults|
|Speaking to adults||Responding only when spoken to first; answering questions with formal titles (sir, ma'am)|
|Taking initiative||Waiting for adult direction; making sure to ask permission before starting an activity|
Exposure to a foreign language can influence the way children learn and interact
- explain concepts using models or multi-sensory materials
- facilitate vocabulary growth using pictures accompanied by verbal cues
- provide opportunities for children to demonstrate understanding through non-verbal play
- find alternate ways to help children communicate and participate until language foundations are secure
Some children exhibit behaviors that fall outside of the normal, or expected, range of development. These behaviors emerge in a way or at a pace that is different from their peers.
Some important thoughts about atypical development are listed below:
Some children show patterns of behaviors that are unusual or are markedly different from their peers
- time at which skills emerge
- sequence within which skills emerge
- quality of skill level and how it contributes to children's functioning
- dates and times of occurrence
- duration and frequency of behavior
- type of activity: language, fine motor
- settings and activities
- interactions with peers and other influences
There is a world of difference between a skill that is delayed and one that is disordered
Great care should be taken to distinguish between skills that are slow in emerging and those that are different in quality, form, and function.
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Adapted from National Center for Learning Disabilities Every Child is Learning: A Training Program for Parents and Teachers