Friday, June 26, 2009

A Journey Through Infant Development: One Year!

A Journey Through Infant Development: One Year!
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

It seems like only yesterday that I started this series on infant development, and now my baby boy has turned a year old. It’s fun to look back and reflect on how much has changed from one year ago. No year is like the first in the amount of growth and development a child makes, although the next several years are still critical and substantial in human development. Instead of writing about what I saw in his development over the past month, I’m going to reflect back and summarize my son’s development during the past year.

    The first month: I was worried about how I could find more love in my heart for another child. The minute you came into our lives that worry was gone – you stole all of our hearts! You are so small, unresponsive, needy, and very fought over. Everyone wants to hold you as you have become a very important part of our family. Basically, all you do at this point is eat and sleep; but you are a very content baby. The joke is that as we carry our car seat from place to place, we are afraid that we are going to leave you behind one of these days because you are so good.

    The second month: You began to smile this month! What a beautiful thing. It takes a lot of effort at this point, but it’s well worth the time to get it. Now that I am getting a smile, I’m already anticipating the next thing – a giggle! You are trying to giggle, and will grunt and move around when being tickled; so I know it won’t be long now!

    The third month: You smile so much now that you have been nicknamed “guy smiley.” What a joy you are to have in the family! You are obviously very aware of people around you, as the minute you see somebody you give them a huge radiating smile. You are also giggling a lot now, and really love being tickled – especially by daddy. You are picking up on patterns, as you know that once daddy is done tickling you he’ll come back and do it some more. You giggle in anticipation of what is to come. The way you shriek when daddy walks in the door is also evidence of your growing awareness. There is nothing better than daddy coming home! Your sisters also offer a lot of entertainment for you. Watching them play is so fun for you. One will say or do something, and then the other; and you will shift your gaze between them rapidly. You are evidently seeing people as very important elements of your environment and as important learning tools!

    The fourth month: You have found your voice, and are doing a lot of playing around with sounds. You have also discovered how to get a reaction out of people. If you don’t like something, you scream in hopes that it’ll stop. If I respond to something you’ve done, you’ll recreate it to continue getting a response. You are also becoming stronger (you rolled over for the first time) and are beginning to reach for toys. You also discovered who you are through some mirror play. Early on, you dismissed yourself as though the reflection were an unimportant person; but later in the month, you realized that what you were seeing was yourself. You found yourself to be quite entertaining. The gaze shifting and emotion sharing that took place between you and me in the mirror was priceless!

    The fifth month: You have become quite the little entertainer! You want to be center of attention, and always have to know what’s going on! Feeding you has become a challenge, as you want to see what’s happening at all times – no time to stop for a bottle! You are also more of a pain bring to restaurants, because you want to touch and grab everything in sight. My earrings, saltshakers, grandma’s glasses – you name it – all are considered toys to you, and you want them all! Social routines (such as patty cake and peek-a-boo) are very much a part of your daily routine. Foundational aspects of communication are becoming more evident. You are doing a lot of babbling, especially when laying in bed after you’ve woken up.

    The sixth month: It’s very evident now that you love the fast paced, dynamic life. Keeping things the same is boring. Peek-a-boo is so much more exciting when you don’t know what to expect. Will the blanket come off fast or slow? Will it be on my head or daddy’s? The giggles are priceless! You are also aware of people that you do and don’t know. Watching you interact with another infant is also very intriguing – the two of you have your own little way of communicating by copying each other’s actions and sounds.

    The seventh month: You are beginning to initiate play now by taking an action to a familiar routine, and doing it to start the game. Humor is also more evident; I’ll ask you to do something, and then you don’t do it and laugh – knowing exactly what is expected of you. My favorite part of this month is that when I say “kisses,” you lean over to me with your mouth wide open for a sweet little kiss. This is one of the times you’ll use your humor though, and turn your head away from me or just look at me and giggle.

    The eighth month: You are watching everything that we do, and know that other people are a source to learn from and receive help from. You got a ball stuck the other day, and looked right at me for help – clearly gazing between the ball and me. You are also watching what your sisters are doing, and want to do the same thing they are. If they are working on a puzzle, you are trying to play along; and you get upset when you aren’t invited to join. Physically, you are beginning to use the army crawl as your primary mode of movement, and it’s quite effective for you.

    The ninth month: You are so interactive now, and it’s more evident that you are crawling with ease. When I come home from work, you immediately crawl up to me for a welcome home hug – which I love! Being able to crawl also means you can be more interactive with games. You now love to play hide and seek – you crawl behind a chair and peek out for my reaction. I love it!

    The tenth month: Curiosity is the theme for this month! Now that you are mobile and can pull yourself up, you want to see everything! When I am in the kitchen working, you are emptying drawers. When I am in the bathroom getting ready, you are pulling everything out of the cupboards. You have been appropriately named “little bother” by your sisters, as you are into everything!

    The eleventh month: Separation anxiety is at its peak. You want to me be with mom, dad, or one of your grandmas only. Everyday you pick a person to be your favorite, and you will attach like glue. That person needs to be around you at all times; and if s/he has to go somewhere, you have to go along or you are very upset. I’m just glad that you have found such a wonderful bond with all of us!

I have been so honored to have a neurotypically forming child to watch develop over the past twelve months. I have never understood or appreciated the complexities of development as I do now. So many critical and foundational milestones are met during this first year! If, while reading this year in review, you still have questions or wonder if you child is developing along a neurotypical pathway, we would love to sit down and talk with you about your concerns.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What Should I Do When My Child is Anxious?

What Should I Do When My Child is Anxious?
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

Anxiety can be debilitating for many individuals, especially those affected by autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. Last month, I shared specific symptoms and changes in behavior to consider when determining whether or not your child or student is anxious. Now that you know what to look for in relation to anxiety symptoms, the next step is to understand ways in which you can help your child or student work through and reduce that anxiety.

Individuals cope with anxiety in many different ways; and as parents and teachers, it is important for us to guide our children without exacerbating the level of anxiety the child is experiencing. The most important person in helping someone work through anxiety is you. You, as the guide, can make the difference in increasing or decreasing anxiety for your child or student just by the way that you interact with them. Here are several suggestions and ideas for you to keep in mind when your child or student becomes anxious.

  • Stay calm. As a parent or teacher, it is important for you to act confidently as a guide to your child or student. If you become anxious when your child or student becomes anxious, then their anxiety level is going to continue to increase. As guides, it is our job to remain calm and composed during stressful situations. It is important for you to model for your child or student how to behave calmly and not overreact.

  • Be quiet. During moments of anxiety, adults tend to cope with the stress by talking more; however, this is not helpful in relation to reducing anxiety for children, especially those with neurodevelopmental disorders. Language can take quite a bit of effort to process; and if someone is already anxious, it is going to take even longer and may exacerbate the situation. By remaining calm and using as few words as possible, you can support your child or student in a more effective manner.

  • Slow down. When a child is anxious, he or she may not be able to process information as effectively as normal. For children with neurodevelopmental disorders, processing can be significantly altered when feelings of anxiety are present. It is important for you to remember that as the guide, you need to slow down everything that you are doing and saying in order to give the child time to process. If you tend to wait 5 seconds for a response during typical interactions, then wait 20 to 30 seconds during moments when anxiety is high.

  • Be observant. When a child’s level of anxiety is increased, there is some reason for the mental state change. As the guide, it is your job to take a step back, look at the situation, and try to figure out what may be causing the anxiety. Is there a transition approaching? Does the child need more sensory input? If you can pinpoint the source(s) of anxiety, then you will be better equipped to help the child cope.

  • Know your child or student. As individuals, we all have different forms of relaxation that we enjoy. For some it is reading a book, and for others it may be bouncing on a trampoline. Whatever the preferences are, it is important to know what strategies help your child or student to relax and calm down. This may include deep breathing, quiet time, physical activities, deep pressure, swinging, or being left alone for a period of time. These are just a few examples of different strategies that can be used with children during anxious time periods; however, it is important for you as the guide to know what will work best for him or her.

Over the past few months, we have examined what anxiety is, the symptoms of anxiety, and suggestions for helping individuals cope with anxiety. As the guide for our children and students, it is our job to recognize moments when they may be facing high levels of anxiety and then guide them through it. The way we react and guide our children or students during such times can make a big difference in their level of anxiety.