R is for ‘Recognising your child’s needs’

Welcome to our post covering the second part of the BRAVE model? 

To recap: The BRAVE model is a model I developed for parents to help them to understand their child’s needs, and how they can support their child to live their best life.  I am writing a blog post on each part of the model, sharing with you the key lessons and strategies you can use to help your child. If you missed the introductory post, and the post on Part 1: ‘Being Aware’ (and getting help early), please click on the links. 

Today’s post is focused on R: ‘Recognising your child’s needs’

Child development is a complex process.  Consider all the different ways in which a baby will develop as they become an older child – they grow in size, they change shape, they learn to move, think, communicate, play, interact, manage their emotions and behaviours…  All of these areas of development are interconnected.

Children with disabilities can have a multitude of developmental needs, and it can sometimes be difficult for parents to know where to start with helping their child.  The thing is – all areas of your child’s development are interconnected. Working on one area will always have an impact on another area. And missing or not focusing on one area will always affect another area.  And frequently you may end up working on multiple areas at the same time, because they are so interconnected.

‘Recognising your child’s needs’ involves understanding your own child’s unique strengths, as well as their needs across all areas of development, so that all areas of your child’s development can then be supported.

Here are the key lessons for parents to help you to Recognise your child’s needs across all areas of development:

  • All areas of your child’s development are interconnected and impact on each other.

Each area of your child’s development is equally as important as any other area, and each area of development impacts on other areas of development.  If your child is having difficulty in one area of their development, there is a risk it will also impact on another area.  For example, if your child cannot move on the floor by rolling, creeping, crawling or walking, then this will impact on their ability to explore their environment and the things in it.  Alternatively, if your child has difficulty communicating, then this will impact on their social development and behavior.  

However, it is important to also consider this concept in visa versa.  If you can help your child to learn to move on the floor, then this will positively impact on their ability to explore their environment and the things in it, which will in turn help them to develop their thinking skills and social skills.  Similarly, if your child can learn to communicate, then this will positively impact on their social skills and their behavior, which in turn can help them to develop their sense of self. Harnessing or supporting your child’s development in one area will always have benefits for other areas of their development.

  • Your child’s essential health and well-being will always take precedence over their development. And if these essential needs are not being met, their development will take a ‘back seat’ to your child’s basic survival.

The human body is very good at putting survival needs first – before anything else, the human body needs food, water, warmth, sleep, good health, and regulation (feeling alert, engaged and in control of our emotions).  Many children with developmental delays or disabilities experience health and well-being difficulties, and it is important to remember that these difficulties can also impact on your child’s development. Health difficulties such as seizures, poor weight gain, heart and lung conditions, or illness, and well-being difficulties such as trauma or emotional dysregulation will impact on a child’s ability to develop and learn new skills.  

As a result, it is important to always consider your child’s health and well-being, and try to make sure it is as good as it can be.  Taking steps to ensure your child’s health can assist with their development.  However, even despite our best attempts, kids can get sick.  If this occurs, it is helpful to understand that a slow down, plateau or even mild loss of developmental skills might be expected while your child is experiencing a health or well-being difficulty.

  • Your child’s developmental progress will be impacted on by a multitude of things that might not always be front of mind, including their personality, and the physical and social environment.

It is important to recognize and remember that your child’s development or developmental progress will be impacted by things you don’t always instantly think about.  For example, if your child does not naturally have a very social personality, then their social and communication skills might not progress as quickly as another child with the same condition.  Alternatively, if your child is very cautious, it might be more difficult to challenge for example, their balance. The physical and social environment in which your child grows up in will also impact on their developmental progress.  If your child cannot access an appropriate school, therapy service, or even just their local community due to physical or social barriers, then this will impact on their experiences and opportunities to develop.

  • Your child has strengths and talents that you can build upon and utilize to assist your child to develop their independence and self-identity.

Every person, including your child with a disability, has strengths – things they are good at, things they find come easily to them, things they enjoy and are drawn to doing.  So much of the life of a child with disabilities is focused on discovering the things they cannot do or have difficulty with, and then helping them get better at these things they are not good at.  However, knowing what your child IS good at, and helping them to develop their strengths, plays an important part in helping your child to develop their identity, and to understand their value and self-worth.  So, don’t forget to explore all the things your child is good at, let your child follow their passions and interests, and harness your child’s strengths to help them to develop.

  • When deciding on goals or focus areas for your child to work towards improving, make sure you think of what your child needs to be able to manage in the future, as well as the present.

It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks and only focusing on the skills your child is currently working on or the skills they need right now, and to miss out on thinking about the bigger picture for your child and their life.  But it is a useful strategy to occasionally step back, take stock, and think about what your child will need in the future.  

Considering your child’s future needs, as well as their current needs, can help you to make sure you give yourself and your child enough time to prepare for the different stages in their life, to ensure that they are as capable and independent as possible in the long run.

Children with developmental difficulties or disabilities can have a multitude of needs that are interconnected and will impact on each other.  By understanding your child’s needs across all areas of development, both now and into the future, you will give your child the best chance to be the best they can be.  

Stay tuned for the next post from the BRAVE model, which is A is for ‘Assisting, but not insisting’, which is all about helping to develop your child’s independence.