Many parents may have concerns about their child’s growth or development, particularly when compared to that of other children, siblings or classmates. While it’s normal for children to develop at varying rates to some extent, some signs of delay may require intervention from a specialist paediatrician. To shed light on how to best address these types of concerns, we invited revered consultant paediatrician Dr Chinwe Ude to share her expert insight on the most common types of health and developmental issues which can affect children as they grow. In this informative article for parents, the leading specialist also explains the vital importance of seeking prompt and specialist advice about your child’s development.
What types of health issues can affect children as they grow?
The most common problems which can affect children as they grow are developmental delays. All children grow and develop differently but, far more often than most people think, children can be affected by delays in the development of different domains of their mouth. Unfortunately, these delays can sometimes be quite tricky to pick up.
Although parents may be concerned by some signs of a problem, they can't quite put their finger on a specific issue. In fact, even where a medical professional has looked at the child, they may not have the specialist knowledge required to identify what is a slight deviation from normal and what is significant and needs further investigation.
Additional to developmental delays, there are conditions like epilepsy and fit disorders in children, as well as abdominal symptoms, headaches and migraines which children can commonly experience. All of these conditions can be quite intrusive in a child's life and can completely disrupt family life if not identified soon enough and managed properly.
What are some warning signs that a child might not be developing as they should?
I think every mum or dad can sometimes instinctively be aware that their child is not doing things like other children are. Sometimes, this may come down to normal, slight deviations from typical development. However, whether your concerns come from ‘mummy or daddy instinct’ or any other signs, my advice is - if you're worried, get it checked out.
Parents may pick up on all kinds of things that suggest their child may not be developing at the same rate as their peers. Families will often tell me that their child trips and falls all the time or is “clumsy”. Some parents are also concerned that their child is not able to keep up with their peers on the playground or in the classroom, in terms of schoolwork and academic achievement. They may also observe that they are not as tall as they should be or that they look different compared to their siblings. These are sometimes subtle but potentially significant signs that something is not quite right and that the child may not be developing as they should.
When should we see a specialist? What type of doctor can help?
As soon as you're worried about an aspect of your child’s development, you should seek advice from a specialist. This is a situation where time is of the essence, particularly when you consider that six weeks in the life of a six month old is a long time. At this stage, this could be the difference between just rolling over and being able to sit up. As soon as you identify the problem, you should arrange a consultation with a specialist to discuss your concerns.
One of the reasons to seek advice promptly is that the sooner you get on top of the problem and get support or treatment for any issues at play, the better the outcome will be. Swift action is also likely to lead to fewer complications further down the line.
In my view, it’s equally important to see the right specialist, in addition to seeking advice promptly. In this circumstance, attending your local urgent care centre to seek advice for concerns about development can often be counterproductive. Services such as these are not the appropriate setting to get the right advice, as they are not equipped with the time or expertise required to fully evaluate your child and any potential developmental problems. A paediatrician specialised in child health and development - like myself - can provide the expert guidance needed to address your concerns.
What types of help and support are available?
There is a huge range of support available, from your GP and health-visiting teams to a paediatrician, like myself, with special expertise in epilepsy and neurology. As a first step, I would encourage parents to first explore any concerns with their health-visiting team. If there are any significant worries about any developmental issues, it’s important to escalate as quickly as possible to see a paediatrician like myself with expertise in neurology.
Why is it important to seek advice promptly?
Time is of the essence in children’s care and so it is very important to seek advice quickly if you are concerned about your child’s development. Secondly, the eventual outcome really depends on how quickly we can get to work on any issues at play. Getting the right support at an early stage can spare you, your child and all of your family from a potentially very difficult journey where interventions come in at a later stage.
As a parent myself, I fully understand the challenges involved in caring for children as they develop. Every parent is doing their best to ensure their child grows up happy and healthy and I am really passionate about listening to parents and their insight on concerns about how well their child is developing. As I often say, behind every child who believes in themselves is a parent who believed in them first.
If you are concerned about your child’s development and wish to schedule a consultation with Dr Ude, you can do so by visiting her Top Doctors profile.