Hyperactive or energectic?

Dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, language disorder, and learning disability are some of the commonly known childhood developmental disorders. At different stages in children’s development, parents may realize their kids lagging behind in one or more areas. The Department of Health points out that the number of referral cases has increased in recent years, which is probably related to the increased understanding of childhood developmental disorders in society. However, parents may still be confused as to how to identify their children’s problems: are they hyperactive or simply having lots of energy? Are they clumsy or do they have motor coordination disorders? Are they struggling with learning difficulties or just being lazy?
Children grow rapidly and display many changes from the age of zero to six. During this period, the features of childhood developmental disorders also start presenting. Parents can pay attention to four areas to look for potential delay in children’s development. First, features of language delay are observable as early as age one or two. Parents can note if children can use common single words, or form words into short phrases. Second, features of social, interpersonal or emotional problems start presenting before the age of two. Parents can observe children’s attention skills, if they can respond to their own names, and if they are able to show comprehension and give appropriate responses during interaction, such as by eye or facial expression and nodding. Third, in the area of ne and gross motor and perceptual functions, parents can observe if children’s movements are coordinated, if they can walk in balance, whether their fingers display flexibility, and if there are anomalies in their auditory and visual perception. Unusual features in this area are in general apparent and can be identified before the age of three. Lastly, delay in cognitive development also presents before the age of three. Parents can observe children’s ability to engage in imaginative play and understand simple concepts such as functions of objects, colours, shapes, matching and causal relationship.

Besides paying attention to the above four areas, parents can also more easily identify developmental disorders by understanding the developmental milestones of their children. There are in general clear differences between children’s character features and the features of developmental disorders. Take attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as an example, hyperactive children lack self-control and cannot be easily restrained by adults, whereas children with an energetic character can still abide by rules when necessary (e.g. in class). In the aspect of learning, pre-school children normally show interest when introduced to writing and reading. If they are uninterested in words, or lag behind the majority of their peers in terms of reading and writing, but show no delay in other aspects of development, they may be showing early features of dyslexia. Parents should not jump to conclusions and label them as lazy or untalented.

If parents detect anomalies in their children’s development, it is advised that they first talk to school teachers. Teachers by observing and comparing the behaviours of children of the same age can more easily identify children’s potential problems. Parents can also take children to doctors, psychologists or therapists for professional assessment.

Early diagnosis of children’s developmental disorders has many benefits. On one hand, specific training can be provided to reduce children’s difficulties in daily life and in learning. Schools can also make adjustments to provide the needed assistance. On the other hand, failing to understand children’s conditions can easily lead to misunderstanding and negative emotions of parents. Therefore, early identification of children’s problems is important for establishing a positive parent-child relationship.

Special thanks to Ms Ann Chen, Child Developmental Therapy Consultant, Potential Development Association Ltd. 

Published Yellow Bus Light November 2017