Mental Retardation (and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders) and Your Baby
New parents tend to worry about their children. They are constantly thinking, “am I doing this right,” “is my baby doing all the things he, or she, is supposed to be doing,” and “look, my baby smiled at me. Does this mean that my baby will be a genius of some kind?” When it comes to child development, there are two main things to remember: first, there are certain developmental milestones that are general to all babies and, if you know them, you don’t have to wonder and worry so much; second, these milestones happen with a slight difference for each child. This means there is not necessarily a firm cut-off date for when your baby should produce these developmental milestones, but rather a flexible window of several weeks, or months, in which “normal” development can take place.
Defining Mental Retardation (MR) or Pervasive Developmental Disorders
There is a lot of controversy about diagnosing mental retardation, or developmental disorders, in the first couple years of a child’s life. In Symptoms of Mental Retardation, written by doctors Andrea Barkoukis, M.A., Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., it’s reported that “it may be difficult to assess very young children for MR, so most clinicians will not give a definitive diagnosis of mental retardation to children under the age of two, unless their symptoms are extremely severe and / or they have a condition that is highly associated with this condition (such as Down's Syndrome).”
Major developmental disorders, such as Mental Retardation and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Autism Spectrum Disorders), are diagnosable conditions defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) and must be diagnosed through professional testing and evaluation. Making judgments regarding these disorders requires testing on IQ, social, motor, and other functional capacities of a child. In the first year of life, a child is not capable of interactions that would allow proper diagnosis. Children are still developing the most basic language and motor skills, which make long term impairments harder to predict. Instead, parents should focus on the developmental skills identified in the following section.
What Should You Look For?
A lot happens for a baby as they develop from two months of age to a year old. The child goes from a helpless, but cute, little ball of flesh to a curious, and sometimes mischievous, little person during the first year of life. A rough display of the main developmental milestones for this age is as follows:
- 2-3 Months: Increases cooing sounds, ability to follow objects with eyes, and ability to lift and hold head up
- 4-6 Months: Babbles and interacts vocally, purposeful movements, and may roll over
- 7-9 Months: Shows attachment to parents, specifically mother, controls hands and trunk, and rolls and sits up
- 10-12 Months: Understands some words and phrases, imitates sounds and may say one of two words, becomes curious, may give or take objects from others, and may begin to stand while holding furniture
If a child is lagging behind in these basic skills, it may be important to have a medical professional check their sight and hearing to ensure sensory impairments are not the cause of other developmental problems.
Getting Help and Providing Accommodations to Allow Your Children to Blossom to Their Greatest Potential
The first year can be a critical time for a baby’s development. These first days of life are for a parent to promptly respond to a child’s needs. Children need interaction, physical nourishment, and touch to flourish. Talking, hugging, singing, rocking, feeding, and playing with your baby is the greatest developmental therapy a baby under one year of age can receive. If you detect significant developmental impairments, do not hesitate to consult your doctor and ask lots of questions. Knowledge and peace of mind are two things every parent needs to provide their baby with the fertile environment needed to blossom.