Marking Milestones: Recognizing Typical vs. Atypical Behaviors in Early Childhood

A skilled child care provider should be able to recognize and accommodate atypical developmental behavior

Being a proficient child care provider involves not only understanding early childhood development in a general sense but also recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each child as an individual and accommodating those differences in a way that encourages social, emotional, and intellectual growth.

Development usually follows a predictable course, with the mastery of certain milestones being used to determine progress. Skills such as crawling, walking, speech, and following directions are all examples of developmental milestones, and although children often reach these benchmarks at different times, there is generally an expected time frame in which to reach them. Part of being an engaged caregiver involves recognizing the differences between typical and atypical development so that one can work with the family to identify potential issues that may require early intervention.

Developmental milestones

Age-appropriate behaviors emerge gradually over time and usually fall within the following categories:

  • Awareness
  • Language
  • Motor skills
  • Social interaction
  • Adaptive behaviors

Children who show advancement in one area may seem behind in another. A skilled caregiver should be capable of recognizing basic patterns of development by age group while understanding that individual children may not follow that outline exactly.

Environmental or cultural factors can influence development, so it’s important to keep in mind that differences in behavior do not necessarily indicate a problem exists. For instance, making eye contact, speaking to adults, or taking initiative may be considered disrespectful in some cultures. While a child may be capable of doing those things, they may not be as willing to do so as other children. Exposure to a different language can also impact language skills.

Observations on a child’s growth, development, and learning should be shared with parents to develop a comprehensive view and to provide ongoing support for progress or intervention.

Assessing atypical behavior

Recognizing atypical behavior includes the following steps:

  • Identify skill levels that indicate that a child’s development is atypical – either advanced or delayed – in comparison to the average child of the same age.
  • Assess whether patterns of behavior are reflections of a child’s personality, are culturally influenced, or if they indicate an area of concern.
  • Record the age at which skills emerge, sequence of skills, and quality of skill level as well as how they contribute to a child’s ability to function. Make a note of dates and times of occurrences to identify patterns, duration and frequency of behavior, types of activities, setting, interactions with peers, or other influences.
  • Share collected information and concerns with parents and ask them to contribute any observations or insights they may have about the behavior.
  • Adapt the learning program or environment to support the child’s strengths and weaknesses while providing external resources or ideas that may help parents.

Early child care providers essentially act as the parents’ partners in facilitating the developmental growth and future success of each child in their care. Due to the number of time providers spend with each child and their specialized knowledge relating to appropriate milestones, child care providers are valuable resources in recognizing and identifying potential areas that may require additional support. Early intervention can make a monumental difference in a child’s developmental progress; the involvement and concern of a skilled caregiver can have a positive impact that will last a lifetime. The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

You may also like…