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Importance of Early Development Screening

A child starts to learn from the very first day when he/she was born. Learning does not start from the first day or school or the first day the steps out of home. Every interaction the child has in the environment helps the child to learn or unlearn something new. Research in child psychology has found out that almost 85% of the development occur before 5 years of age out of which majority happens in the first few years of life.

Development of a child follows a predictable trajectory. According to Gesell, development is an orderly, timed, and sequential process that occurs with such regularity that it is predictable

The predictable timing and sequence of milestone acquisition is the basis of all developmental assessment. Below 5 years, the development of the child can be categorized in 5 key domains – physical, adaptive, cognitive, social-emotional and communication. Each of these areas do not develop in isolation, rather, interact with each other and enable each other to develop as the child grows each day.

Due to the stress caused by the disruption during the pandemic, most of the children could not get the exposure required for age – appropriate development. Parents and caregivers could not judiciously engage with the children, the lack of it reflecting in their language skills, foremost.

Twin studies from Rhode Island Hospital and the nonprofit LENA Foundation find that infants born during the pandemic vocalize significantly less and engage in less verbal “turn-taking” behaviors found to be critical for language development. As those babies grow, experts worry they will need significant supports to be ready for school. They also found that children were taking longer to do the cognitive assessments as compared to before the pandemic. By a year into the pandemic, the average cognitive performance of children ages 3 months to 3 years was the lowest it had been since the researchers had begun to measure it in 2010.

Developmental Delay is when the child achieves the millstones at a slower rate that what is age -appropriately expected. A delay can be further categorized by its severity – mild, moderate and severe. Delay in a single developmental domain affects all the other areas in the child. A delay in development tends to affect behavior, play and academic skills in children. Developmental disabilities are the most common reason for childhood disabilities.

Early identification of developmental delay is very crucial for the overall well-being of children. Research over the world have estimated that 33% of preschool-age children were found to be developmentally delayed. These numbers have significantly risen after COVID 19. Current detection rates of developmental disorders are lower than their actual prevalence, which suggests that the challenges to early identification of children with developmental disorders have not been addressed.

Reports available from various early intervention centers suggests that it almost take 2 years for the child with development delay reach an early intervention clinic. The reasons are multiple fold. From lack of availability of trained professional, accessibility to verified centers, fewer cost affective options to lack of awareness about delays in the parents/caregivers.

Michael Shevell, MD (2015), found that if developmental delays are detected late, opportunities for early intervention are lost, resulting in poor outcomes such as learning difficulties, behaviour problems and functional impairments later on in life. There is strong research evidence suggesting that effective early identification of developmental delays and timely early intervention can positively alter a child’s long-term trajectory. Attanasio O and Richter L (2020) found that optimal early child development has lifetime beneficial consequences for educational achievement, adult productivity and population health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 5% of the world’s children who were below 14 years of age suffered from moderate to severe DD-associated disability most of which would have been either prevented or managed, if detected early.

Development delay and disabilities does not only affect the child but if also makes the families at high risk of stigma and social exclusion. In some cases it across increases the stress and financial strain on the family resulting in mental health issues in the family.

Every research in the field of child psychology cannot stress enough on the ongoing process of developmental tracking especially in younger children. As parents and professionals it becomes our sole responsibility to understand and implement.

Written By: -

Isha Singh - Clinical Psychologist

Director - Clinical Services, Ananya Child Development Centre.

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