Based on our discussion over the previous two weeks, it is instructive to recall that there are two things that are essential for a child to begin the process of making sense of the world. Certainly, one of these relates to the child's ability to do so. As we noted, anything that restricts a child's ability can serve as a contributing factor to the presence of developmental delay. Several of these factors were discussed last week.
The second issue relates to a child’s early exposure to the world. In that light, if a child has a limited or deficient early experience or is not afforded ample environmental exposure, the potential for developmental delays is increased. This relates to several things, not the least of which is the actual caregiving environment and routine the child is exposed to.
It should be kept in mind that children come into the world uniquely predisposed to begin the process of making sense of it. In order for the process to unfold, a child needs auditory, visual, and tactile experiences that are provided in the context of a stable and nurturing caregiving routine. During the early weeks of life, the child's system is geared toward his basic survival needs. The infant's earliest behaviors and responses are biologically driven, thus reflecting her need for nutrition, sleep, physical comfort, and contact with caregivers. Any undue or prolonged deprivation in one or more of these basic areas predisposes a child to less than optimal opportunities. At this stage of development, a child has very limited intentional means to express their needs. Yet as the child grows and becomes a greater participant in its world, his ability to make an increasing sense of it improves. Thus, in many ways, these early weeks serve as a developmental foundation thereby enabling the child to put his world together in an increasingly purposeful manner over time.
Neglect, lack of routine, limited face to face time with caregivers, social deprivation, minimal nurturing touch, or an over stimulating daily routine can further the risk of the child's withdrawal into a "survival" mode and reduce its benefit from exposure to the world.
In the presence of adequate environmental exposure and opportunity, it is truly a wondrous thing to note, from week to week, the subtle changes that take place as visible proof that a child has begun and will sustain a rapidly expanding set of skills that equips him/her for optimal success during the infant, toddler, preschool years and beyond. I encourage parents to be intentional about keeping a record of developmental changes, some quite subtle, that are constantly taking place. You will be amazed at how perfectly ready your child is to grow, learn, and change.