I became very excited this past month when my son Bennett first put his foot into his mouth. It was not because he said something inappropriate (he is only five months old, mind you) but because he reached a developmental milestone by playing with his toes and sticking them into his mouth.
Like many parents, I’m constantly checking my son’s behavior against what is considered “developmentally appropriate.” A couple of weeks ago, he and I had a verbal “give and take” where we went back and forth making a sound that approximated “hi.” Even though this hasn’t happened since, can I still check the behavior off the developmental milestone checklist? If not, how many times does he need to do it to make it count?
I realize all children develop differently, so I don’t want to fixate on how quickly Bennett is reaching milestones. However, I think there is value to being aware of them. For example, I learned about what the lack of “joint attention” could potentially indicate during training workshops at CMEE designed to help our staff welcome and serve children with autism. Prior to these workshops, I thought “joint attention” signaled a baby’s awareness of her or his elbows or knees. In fact, it is the ability to share attention with someone else toward an object. Young children who have problems with joint attention as infants typically have language delays when they get older.
A big reason of why I like learning about development milestones is that they can provide a measurable and appropriate framework for playing with my son. To work on joint attention, I shape his hand so that his index finger is pointing and then have him alternate pointing between the two of us while I make up a song about “You and Me.” (Bennett is the only person who has never complained about how poorly I sing.)
If you are worried that your child might be experiencing difficulty reaching developmental milestones, speak to his or her pediatrician. You can also find out about early intervention services by calling Suffolk County’s Division of Services for Children with Special Needs at 853-3100 or by visiting their website. An assessment is free of charge to parents.
Playing at CMEE is a fantastic way to help your children achieve their developmental milestones. As they grow older, they can pretend to drink out of a cup in CMEE’s Diner, pull off their shoes before going into the playroom, make marks on paper with crayons, build a tower out of Lego, ride a tricycle, look at a picture book by themselves, or conquer the monkey bars.