A recent report states that more young children in Singapore are being diagnosed with developmental delays. In fact, the new cases have increased by about 25 per cent in the last five years and doubled since 2010.
Experts say that the trend is set to grow and the unsettling signs among the children are because of pandemic induced habits.
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KKH Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the National University Hospital diagnosed about 5,000 new cases of developmental delays in children, mainly pre-schoolers.
Autism Spectrum Disorder and speech and language delay accounted for about 60 per cent of development issues diagnosed among pre-schoolers, the Ministry of Health (MOH) informed.
KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which saw a majority of new cases of developmental delay (almost 3,600 children) has noted a “doubling in the number of children below two years of age.”
There were around 4,000 new cases in 2015 and around 2,500 cases in 2010. So, yes, the current numbers have increased.
MOH attributed this increase in developmental delays in children to several factors:
Effective Screening Mechanism Is Now In Place
Health experts say the impact of the pandemic on developmental delays is still unfolding.
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Dr Jennifer Kiing mentioned that they have been receiving more referrals for speech delays, ASD features, poor social engagement and short attention span during the pandemic. She mentioned that most of these conditions are associated with excessive screentime.
Dr Kiing noted that during the circuit breaker in 2020 when most of the schools were shut for over two months, parents resorted to screentime to keep their kids engaged, while they could concentrate on their work.
Due to the pandemic, many parents have avoided playground visits and playdates. Also, some have removed their kids from infant care and childcare centres to restrict their exposure to others.
Dr Tan highlighted that the reduction in social interaction and increased screentime may result in language delay and a further delay in social development in toddlers.
There has also been an increase in kids who are unable to regulate their emotions, thus throwing tantrums and having a shorter attention span with impulsivity.
Parents Delay Seeking Help Early Amid Pandemic
Experts have further shared their concern that parents are not seeking help early enough.
Dr Tan said that parents are scared of visiting the hospitals amid the pandemic. Many of them have rescheduled and delayed their visit to the clinics for evaluation of these developmental delays and other behavioural concerns in their kids since they think of them as less urgent.
The same trend has been seen in appointments for relevant therapies for developmental delays in children.
Dr Tan mentioned that the “exact impact can be seen only in the years to come” as developmental delays and behavioural concerns take time to manifest.
But, she concludes with a note of caution, that if it is left unchecked, then it will continue to develop into children’s schooling years.
So, parents, if you have been wondering whether your child’s developmental milestones are on track, here’s what you need to know.
Development Delays In Children
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It is important to understand that kids reach their developmental milestones at their own pace. While some reach that milestone faster, others may take their own time. But, never compare your child’s development even with his or her own sibling.
It is also worth noting that minor and temporary delay is not a cause for alarm, but an ongoing delay in reaching milestones can be a sign of challenges later in life.
When a child faces a delay in reaching thinking, social, motor skills and language milestones, it is called a developmental delay.
Now, there can be many reasons for it. For instance, hereditary, complications during pregnancy or premature birth. The cause isn’t always known.
If you suspect that your child has a developmental delay, then speak to their paediatrician. If there are any issues, they will be able to diagnose. Post their diagnosis, they may refer you for therapies and early interventions to help your child progress and develop into adulthood.
Here’s are the milestones your child should hit at different ages in their life.
Fine And Gross Motor Skills Development
- Most kids can lift their head by three months old
- They can sit with some support by six months
- Most of them can also manage to walk well before their second birthday
- By the time they touch five years, they are able to use fork and spoon. At the same time, they should also be able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds or even longer.
- By age five, most children can stand on one foot for 10 seconds or longer and can use a fork and spoon.
Speech And Language Development
Your child’s language learning process starts from the time they were an infant trying to communicate their hunger by crying.
- By the time a baby has reached six months, they will be able to recognise the sounds of basic language. Around 12 to 15 months old, most infants can say two or three simple words, even if they aren’t clear.
- At 18 months, most toddlers can say several words.
- When they reach three years, most of them can speak in brief sentences.
However, speech and language delays are not the same thing.
A language delay can occur when kids face difficulty in understanding what other people are saying or they can’t express their own thoughts. Parents, do note that poor hearing can often result in speech and language delay.
Here, early intervention can help.
A developmental delay can be a symptom of other underlying medical conditions as well, including:
- Sutism spectrum disorders
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome or other genetic disorders
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
Treatment Of Developmental Delays In Children
The treatment for developmental delays will vary according to the specific delay.
- There may be some treatments that may suggest physical therapy for help in case of motor skill delays. Also, behavioural and educational therapy may be recommended for help with ASD and other delays.
- In some cases, medications may be prescribed.
As parents, dealing with developmental delays in kids can be stressful and depressing. But, at the same time remember that kids will always benefit from a warm and nurturing environment.
So spend time with your child to bond better. Don’t lose your patience and instead, use simple language for them to understand better. Also, don’t forget to praise your child’s every little success, it will go a long way in building their confidence.
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