Young children under the age of six have brains that are described as having ‘neural plasticity’. This means that the windows for development in their brain are all wide open and able to be accessed in order to lay down neural pathways for new skills. Some children who are late in reaching their developmental milestones begin to develop these ‘atypical’ patterns of development. Their brains are trying to process information in different ways along different routes that may not be the same as the way other children their age learn. These different pathways begin to take hold in the brain and can get in the way of a young child learning words, engaging in age-appropriate play skills, or getting along with others.
These atypical patterns are often found in the areas of language, social communication, play, and sensory skills. While we understand that every child is different, we also recognize that most children develop good language and play skills beginning around the age of 12 months, when the first word is often spoken. If your child does not develop purposeful language by 18 months of age, is having difficulty imitating you, or is not interested in trying to copy your sounds and actions, do not wait to have a developmental assessment. When we determine the reason for a young child’s delays, it guides us in providing the child with specific supports and services geared toward their individual needs. Early identification of delays is critical for future success. We can access the developmental windows in the brain that are open to re-wire neural pathways through repetition and play.
By the time a child is 7 or 8 years old, these windows are all closed. New windows open, for a new phase of childhood, however the early developmental windows are shut and cannot be reopened. Therefore, it is critical to have young children assessed by a developmental psychologist who can also provide early testing for autism. 90% of a child’s brain development occurs by 5 years of age, so early detection of delays is the best chance of assisting the child in meeting their full potential. Speak to your child’s pediatrician and ask for a referral to a specialist who can provide a comprehensive developmental evaluation. Early intervention is key.