5 Ways to Find Your Child’s Developmental Level

Developmental level is a phrase that is important not only in homeschooling but in autism as well. The number one  piece of advice that I give to people when they ask me about homeschooling children with autism is to forget their actual age.  They all look at me crazy and say what?  Seriously , forget about their chronological age (actual age at the moment).  Spend some time playing with them to find out their developmental level.  It is an invaluable piece of information in your home school as well as your autism treatment plan. Progress will come faster and with far less stress once you begin working on filling in the gaps.

Our children with autism have gaps in their development.  Their brains have developed differently than a typical child.  In some areas, they can be really advanced.  In our instance, it’s math and reading.  Logan can spout facts like no one’s business hence the nickname, Cliff .  There are also areas of the brain that are not developed as well , usually social and verbal skills.  This is where auditory processing delays come into play as well.   Unfortunately, in order to get to higher level skills, you have to fill in the gaps between the two areas.  You have to get the mirror neurons to fire in that particular area in order to make the new connections. 

5 Ways to Find Your Child’s Developmental Level

  1. Play with them.  Get down on the floor and join them in whatever activity they enjoy doing.  You will be amazed at how much you can learn about where your child is developmentally simply by hanging out in their world.  Do this a couple of times to be sure you are seeing the same things.  It’s also a great way to see if progress has moved them up a level or if you need to keep going with the original plan.
  2. Bring them around other children in different age groups.  You’ll quickly see what age group your child to be in for their developmental age. There’s a huge caveat here.  Your child may not be able to hang with any of them. It can be devastating to make this realization. Don’t force them to join any just any group.  If that’s the case then spend a few moments observing the children to see which group has some things in common with your child.  Because Logan has a little sister, aka adorable Madison, we were able to let him partake in some toddler and pre kindergarten events like preschool story time.  This gave me the opportunity to see Logan in action with children much younger than him.  He clearly fit in with that crowd even though he was chronologically five years older than all of them.  Wow, was that a hard pill to swallow.
  3. Ask a close friend what they observe.  Be careful here.  Ask someone who is going to be brutally honest with you. Honesty is key to getting the right level.  I would not ask a family member who doesn’t want to upset you with the truth. Your feelings are irrelevant to the situation. Pick someone who has spent a good deal of time with your child. They need to know your child’s strengths and weaknesses intimately.
  4. Do an developmental checklist.   I started in the very early years so I would feel better about where he was.  Unfortunately,I didn’t get very far.  It was the most depressing afternoon of my life.  Be prepared for lots of emotions. Remind yourself that this is important information that will help your child immensely. The developmental checklist will also help you to know where to start. At age 5, Logan couldn’t drink from a cup. I knew this was odd and a skill that he needed to achieve quickly. What I didn’t know was all the milestones that needed to come first in order to help him successfully drink from a cup.
  5.  For home school subjects that offer them , have your child take a placement test.  Keep giving the tests on different occasions until they can’t do the levels anymore.  Then go back to the last level they completed successfully.  Start there. It’s the exact same thing you do with the developmental checklist. Start where your child was the most successful especially if they have been in public school beforehand. You have to build confidence back before you can attempt the harder stuff.

What do common developmental checklists forget?

  • Academic or cognitive level – how a child performs compared to his or her peer group on subjects taught in school, concepts, etc.
  •  Social-emotional level – where is the child in terms of communication functions, play skills, motivation to connect with others? In terms of autism this can be very underdeveloped, even less than a 6 month old baby for high functioning individuals.
  • Impulsivity and behavioral control – a 10 year old may only be able to regulate his or her body at the level of a 3 year old and gets punished frequently.
  • Neurodevelopment and neurological maturity – Is the nervous system matured? Looking at reflexes, one can determine if an individual of any age actually has reflexes activated that are supposed to be integrated in the first 2 years of life.

This will be one of the hardest things you will ever do for your child’s autism plan.  You will be grieved over where your child actually is versus his chronological age. Take some time to gather your thoughts and give yourself grace. Then you simply have to get over it. This will overwhelmingly pay extraordinary dividends in your child’s progress.  You will be amazed at the increase in confidence and skills.  Always pick the developmental level your child can do fairly successfully.  As they grow in their success , you will be able to push them a little farther past their comfort zone. This is due to the mirror neurons in the brain making those missing connections.  Once those gaps are filled in, the puzzle starts to fit together like a typical child’s development. Higher skills are attainable due to the foundational pieces now being in place. This is hands down the most important key to the your child’s future success.

This is a great article for parents. I agree with the part that talks about how the discovery of where your child is may be more difficult for you than for your child. In terms of development, “developmental level” can mean a lot of things that even the common developmental checklists don’t clarify. There’s Academic or cognitive level – how a child performs compared to his or her peer group on subjects taught in school, concepts, etc. Then there’s social-emotional level – where is the child in terms of communication functions, play skills, motivation to connect with others? In terms of autism this can be very underdeveloped, even less than a 6 month old baby for high functioning individuals. Then there’s impulsivity and behavioral control – a 10 year old may only be able to regulate his or her body at the level of a 3 year old and gets punished frequently. Typically all of these things go back to neurodevelopment and neurological maturity. Is the nervous system matured? Looking at reflexes, one can determine if an individual of any age actually has reflexes activated that are supposed to be integrated in the first 2 years of life. Many developmental checklists will look at skills like play, self-help, communication, etc. but those skills are based on neurodevelopmental functions and reflexes. Immaturity in a child’s behavior or motivation is likely connected back to an immature nervous system.

The 5 domains in a person’s life are what you’re working on. Preschools almost always tell parents they teach to “the whole child” and then provide activities in the 5 domains. But none of us lose those 5 domains. So our kids with special needs are a bit easier to understand when we can at least determine a range of development in each of them rather than assigning a single number. For those who need to know, the 5 domains of development are: physical, cognitive (which can be broken down further, especially into language and math areas), social, emotional, and spiritual (whether Christian or another religion, this could also be named moral). My very awesome boy operates at many different developmental stages. All are maturing, but some areas faster than others due to prenatal brain damage, early childhood traumas, what we nurture best, where he has had counseling, and areas of exposure to positive experiences to build on for growth.

Progress can come fast and furious or slow as molasses.  Rest in the fact that even slow progress is still progress. Learn quickly to look for the accomplishments,big or small.  Celebrate every accomplishment like the amazing success that it clearly is! Remember that the more your child can do for himself, the better his quality of life. This affects the whole family. Mostly, it keeps your child safe from people who may want to take advantage of him. Rest in the knowledge that you are doing what is best for your child.  That’s all our children need from us.