Most children develop in a similar way. Even when cultural backgrounds, geographic locations, and personal characteristics vary, child development is generalizable. That does not mean, however, that all children are the same. Some children develop more quickly in cognitive areas, but more slowly in social areas. Some children develop more quickly in general than others, some more slowly. Children are living, breathing beings, and some variation is normal. When a child develops in the way that we expect, we refer to this as typical development. There is room for a good deal of variance in typical development. For instance, babies can speak their first words anywhere from 9 to 13 months, and children can write their own names anywhere from 3 to 5 years. This variance is healthy and normal.
Some variance is unusual, and that is referred to as atypical development. Atypical development can slow down growth in other areas of a child’s life. If a child cannot speak any words by 15 or 16 months, it is considered atypical development. The ways and speed in which children grow is measured by tools called developmental assessments. The caring adults in a child’s life benefit from knowing how the child is developing, where they are struggling, and what to expect next. Despite the name, developmental assessments are not complicated standardized tests that a child must complete. Instead, they are carried out by the teacher through observing the child at play or by playing small games and activities with the child. The teacher records the child’s developmental milestones on the assessment and later shares it with the parents. If development is not on track, teachers should speak with parents and connect them with specialists who can help. Specialists will administer another type of assessment that is specially designed to diagnose developmental disabilities. Atypically developing children benefit from early intervention programs that can help them get back on track.