Telethon Kids Institute-Joondalup Health Campus: Parents let children develop at own pace

Andrew Whitehouse.
Andrew Whitehouse.

The Origins Project, a collaboration led by Telethon Kids Institute and the Joondalup Health Campus, is a long-term study into the health and development of 10,000 children born at Joondalup Health Campus over the next few years.

In this regular series, Community News features an Origins researcher explaining the project’s research or health issues that matter to parents and families.

This week’s columnist is Andrew Whitehouse, head of the autism research team at Telethon Kids Institute:

Anyone who has ever held a newborn must at some stage have wondered how this eating, sleeping, emitting ball of flesh turns into a child ready for the classroom in little more than 1825 days.

Child development is a wonder to behold, but it can also come with considerable anxiety.

Parents often have intimate knowledge of developmental milestones and watch their beautiful new child like a hawk for any sign of delayed development.

And who can blame them? Parents are bombarded with ‘shoulds’: “Your child should be smiling at 8-10 weeks. Your child should be crawling by 8-10 months.”

To an already anxious, sleep-deprived brain, this is pure torture.

There is no doubt that developmental milestones play a very important role for parents.

Parents are the biggest weapon in identifying delayed development, not least because they know their child better than anyone.

But here’s the rub; developmental guidelines are just that: guidelines. The child who hits each and every milestone on the knocker is the exception, not the rule.

If there are any concerns about a child, then it is very wise to consult a health professional.

Speech pathologists are experts in language and social development, psychologists are experts in cognitive development, and occupational therapists and physiotherapists are experts in motor development.

But parents can also take some of the pressure off themselves. Child development is variable. Not every healthy and happy child hits milestones at the same time.

By far the best thing that parents can do is create a rich learning environment for their child.

This means getting down on the floor and playing with your child, talking with them, interacting with them at their level.

As a general rule, I find that the more you make a fool of yourself, the better.

For more information, visit www.originsproject.telethonkids.org.au