We know that early childhood is critical and sets the foundation for how children develop. That is why it is important that children with developmental delays and disabilities receive specialised supports in their early years.
Earlier this year, the NDIS released guidelines around its early childhood approach (previously known as early childhood early intervention). These guidelines explain how the approach works, and the steps parents can take to receive developmental support and learning for their children through the NDIS.
If you have a child who is younger than seven and has a developmental delay or disability, you may be able to receive support, but if you are new to the NDIS’ early childhood approach, it may be difficult to make sense of the guidelines. That is why My Plan Manager has this month partnered with Allie, an early childhood teacher and early development specialist with working experience of the NDIS early childhood approach.
We chatted with Allie to discover more about what parents and carers need to know.
Once you have read this Q+A, hop onto Kinora to Ask Allie Anything on early childhood development and the NDIS early childhood approach.
MPM: Hi Allie, thanks for joining us today to unpack early childhood development. What led you to become an early development specialist?
Allie: My interest in early childhood initially came from having my own children, marvelling at how quickly they were growing and developing, and wanting to give them the skills and understandings they needed to be successful throughout life.
My first introduction into early childhood development started more than 25 years ago with a qualification in childcare, and then progressed to an education degree, specialising in early childhood teaching. Through various school and community kindergarten roles, my work with young children and families evolved to focus on birth-to-five programs (for new-borns to five year olds), play-based programs with an emphasis on child and family capacity building, learning and development.
MPM: Why is healthy development in early childhood so important?
Allie: Every part of a child’s development is programmed by the development of the brain. The most rapid period of brain development starts before birth and within the first three years of a child’s life. While our brains continue to develop into adulthood, it is the foundation built in those first three years that influences future learning, health, and life success.
Healthy brain development is required for children to learn how to walk, talk, think, and remember, along with learning about the people, places, and things in their environment. Nurturing relationships, opportunities for play, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and experiences in a range of environments with a range of people all contribute to healthy brain development.
MPM: What is developmental delay?
Allie: Developmental delay is a term used when children are slower to reach milestones than is expected for their age in one or more developmental areas. These developmental areas include:
- gross motor (how children move)
- fine motor (how children manipulate objects and use their hands)
- speech and language (how children communicate, understand, and use language)
- cognitive (how children understand, think, and learn)
- personal/social (how children relate with others and develop increasing independence)
MPM: How is a developmental delay identified?
Allie: Parents and carers know their children best and are likely to notice when their child isn’t developing motor, social or language skills at the same rate as other children the same age.
While the sequence for child development is the same for every child, there is a big range in the pace of development, and this is why there is a typical age range for developmental milestones. An example of this is a child’s gross motor development and mobility. The early part of the sequence looks like lifting the head while on the tummy, sitting without support, crawling, standing with support, standing without support, and then walking independently. We would expect a typically developing child to crawl somewhere between 6 and 9 months and walk independently somewhere between 12 and 18 months.
There are numerous developmental milestone guides on the internet. Child health nurses, doctors and educators consult these or conduct developmental screening against these at a child’s scheduled health check-ups, or as part of the delivery of a developmental program (e.g. childcare, preschool). If a developmental delay is identified, these professionals will work with the family to support their access to early intervention options.
The Raising Children Network website (https://raisingchildren.net.au/) contains developmental trackers and information across all childhood ages, including teens. Developmental Milestones and the EYLF and NQS is also a great guide to typical rates of development.
MPM: What can a parent do when they are concerned about their child’s development?
Allie: No matter the concern, it is important to remember that there is lots of support available for parents and carers. In the first instance they might want to talk things through with trusted family and friends. The next step would be to discuss their concerns with their doctor, child health nurse or their child’s educator/teacher. These professionals will point them in the right direction with information about local services, health and education referrals, or perhaps connect them with an NDIS early childhood partner.
MPM: What advice would you give to a parent or carer who is new to the NDIS, and doesn’t feel that the services they are engaged with are achieving outcomes for their child?
Allie: Finding a service, therapists or key worker that works well with your child and family might take time. Alongside this, early intervention providers are in demand and often have long waitlists that might force a family to engage with a non-preferred provider who may not meet their needs. It is important to keep in regular contact with your NDIS early childhood partner, as they can support you when things are not working out as well as planned.
This link – https://re-imagine.com.au/families/families-what-is-early-childhood-intervention/ – contains a section on How To Get The Best Results with a downloadable booklet titled, Choosing Quality Early Childhood Intervention Services and Supports for Your Child – What you need to know. There is a checklist on pages 27 and 28 that could be useful when considering your provider options.
If you have a preferred provider and are on a waitlist, you might want to consider teletherapy as an interim option. This could get you and your child started with a developmental program and strategies and might even prove to be the right type of support for you in the longer term.
I recommend reading your provider Service Agreements carefully to ensure you can cease engagement, if required.