#3 – The developing newborn: What is normal?

In my last post, I briefly introduced the discipline of behavioural science and how it relates to mental health and modern-day psychology. Some of you, however, will have witnessed the application of behavioural science principles in a different setting.

Picture this – you have a 6-week-old baby girl and you take them to the GP for a check-up. The doctor examines the child and says they are “developing normally”. What does that mean? How do we know what is normal vs. abnormal development?

Over the past century and beyond, observational studies have provided us with a benchmark for normal patterns of growth and development. It is because of these studies that we can predict when a baby may first smile, when they may start to experience anxiety from being separated from their mother, when they may take their first steps or when they may exhibit behaviours or when they may appear uninhibited, such as throwing tantrums in public spaces. We refer to these as ‘developmental milestones’.

For parents, it’s very common to worry about their child’s development, not only in the early years but as they continue to transition through puberty and even into adulthood. Thankfully, whilst developmental milestones may be set in stone, there is actually great variability in when and how people meet developmental milestones and a deviation from the parameters is not necessarily abnormal. That said, if a child is noticeably delayed in a certain area of development it may prompt us to further investigate in case of a cause. Sometimes there are reversible causes – for example, a speech delay may occur in children with chronic ear infections due to the impact on hearing and the association with language development.

In my next post, I will explore a commonly misunderstood condition that often first presents with developmental delay – autism spectrum disorder (or ASD). Feel free to post comments or questions and of course, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook!


Links to previous blogs in this series:

#1 – Introduction to series
#2 – Why do dogs wag their tails?