Children’s Development: Delayed Not Damaged
From babbles to the slap of sandals on pavement, the first three years of a child’s life passes like a colorful, unstoppable whirlwind. And like any good whirlwind, it brings about rapid changes with great distinction and significance. In fact, how a child develops in those first three years stays with them for the rest of their life.
Developmental milestones are truly a cause for celebration. Although each child develops at their own steady pace, expected times of development are not to be ignored. Developmental delays are best detected early to address the needs of their future progress. It can occur in one or many areas such as gross or fine motor, language, social, emotional, or cognitive abilities. It is an ongoing major or minor delay, and one of the most commonly misunderstood disability in children and adults.
While a diagnosis from a developmental and behavioral pediatrician or pediatric neurologist is the first step to ensure continued growth and progress, it fails to eliminate the enormous social stigma children with developmental delays face. For those with visible genetic developmental delays such as Down Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or other birth defects, the playground can be a harsh and unwelcoming environment. Even if it is a slight delay in speech or cognitive abilities, children with developmental delays are commonly mistreated by their peers. Deemed the weirdo, the outcast or even the school idiot, it is no surprise that they struggle with self-confidence and social anxiety from a young age.
The years seem to stretch from that first slur or nasty nickname. Children with developmental delays experience ongoing hurdles and unprecedented discrimination that haunt them for the rest of their life. These bad building blocks commonly manifest as depression, agoraphobia and other mental illnesses in early adulthood. The damage is truly irrevocable and heartbreaking, not only for the child but the parents and caregivers of the victims.
Parents of children with developmental delays report higher levels of parental stress than parents of typically developing children. While the child’s behavioral problems are a source of stress – as with all parents – the majority of parental stress stem from external factors. Those caring for children with developmental delays experience consistent parent-shaming and social isolation, and commonly suffer from poor self-confidence, depression and financial difficulties.
Playground politics often extend to parents of children with developmental delays as they are stigmatized for their so-called ‘inability’ to control their children. Unsolicited advice and criticism from other parents with typically developed children only furthers the divide and showcases the incredible unfounded judgement that comes with having children with developmental delays. Indeed, the pressure and
demand to have a ‘normal’ child results in significantly restricted social lives. Uninvited to birthday gatherings and unable to attend PTA meetings due to tiring schedules, parents of children of developmental delays are regularly isolated. Enjoyable excursions such as picnics, movies and visits to the zoo are difficult to navigate with children of developmental delays and can be profoundly alienating. Should the rare decision be made to take time off to oneself, the necessary arrangements are equally hard to come by.
Family members and babysitters, as trustworthy and well-intentioned as they might be, are usually unaccustomed to caring for children with developmental delays over an extended length of time. If the child should have medical aids and/or require special attention, the options are even more limiting. The time and care necessary to ensure a comfortable environment and facilitate growth for children with developmental delays can be all consuming.
Unsurprisingly, for many parents, constant worry and parental stress force them to stay at home in order to provide for their child’s needs. Full time, and even part time, jobs are physically draining and challenging to maintain with night shifts as their primary caregiver. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal on Developmental Disabilities, “parents of children with delays reported significantly lower income than parents of children without delays. The average income bracket for families of children with delays was $35,000 – $45,000, whereas the average income bracket for families of children without delays was $65,000 – $75,000”. Without a high earning potential, overworked and socially isolated, one can say that parents of children with developmental delays truly weather the bulk of the disability, like an unyielding umbrella caught in a whirlwind.
Children with developmental delays deserve everything that a child without delays have and more. Although it is important to focus on their quality of life, medical needs and social integration, the greatest gift is unyielding love and support. Parents will give freely and selflessly, and as a community and a country we need to do the same. Parental stress is the one of the biggest and easily managed obstacle when it comes to nurturing children with developmental delays. Compassion and understanding are the first steps of many, with emotional, social and financial support quick to follow. Together, let’s ensure that they see the rainbow after the whirlwind.