Monday morning, and another assessment is finished. The child I just saw is an undiagnosed 4 year-old boy, called Riyad, who came in clinic with his dad. I managed to collect some data and information through observations of free play and from unstandardised checks of his perceptual, fine and gross motor skills. Riyad showed limited interest to interact with me or use his language and found it super tricky to follow verbal instructions. What it was clearly noticeable and concerning was his inability to use his hands and fingers in a productive way, for example to pick up coins or pegs from the desk using a pincer grasp, showed no interest to scribble with a crayon and when it was time to take off or put on his shoes, his participation was not there, and his dad would do everything for him. Characteristically, he would lie on his back on the floor, waiting for his dad to do the work for him.
Just before the end of the assessment, I called little Riyad a ‘Prince’, meaning that his dad is literally his servant (dad would also pick him up and carry him when he was about to walk on an uneven surface). Thank God, dad took this as a compliment.
4 weeks later, during the parent-feedback meeting, where both parents are present, I ask one of my regular questions to both parents. "What would you consider to be your child’s main strength?" Both parents, with one mouth then reply, ‘He is very smart; he has his own tablet, and you have to see him, Neki, how easy it’s for him to navigate through YouTube’.
I was left speechless! Should I let them know? Or maybe not? You see, I do not want to discourage them.
So, I started explaining about the developmental milestones that Riyad should have achieved, and he clearly has not, but it did not seem to concern them, as they had this impression that their child is very smart, because he is an expert in scrolling on their smartphone. After all, both parents seem wonderful people and I sense that they want to be educated and learn how they can support their child more efficiently.
The feedback is finished, and I cannot wait to start working with this little boy and his young parents.
Upon the completion of the meeting, I wrote the below notes, basically all the things I wanted to tell them, but I couldn't:
TO COUPLES-WANNABE PARENTS: Raising a child is hard work!
It requires good knowledge of the developmental norms (that nobody is obliged to have beforehand).
The pleasure though, to have your own child, gives you such a boost that you can cope with all the challenges!
TO PARENTS WHO JUST HAD THEIR FIRST CHILD: Get some good rest every time you find the opportunity.
The child’s is not mommy’s responsibility. Share the workload in 50-50.
Then everyone will be happy!
TO PARENTS WITH TODDLERS: Do never carry your child if he can use his legs (unless you want to give him hugs and kisses or play with him after a tiring day at work).
Mobile technology apps such as YouTube and social media work with algorithms.
Algorithms make your life easier, but also transform you to a not-necessary-to-think human being.
Smartphones and tablets are just an evolutionary type of cause ‘n’ effect toys!
Scrolling using one finger through touchscreens
IS NOT A SKILL!
Putting on your shoes as a 4-year-old child
IS A SKILL.
I understand and respect the fact that mobile technologies are helping children self-regulate during transitional periods in daily life. They are also super super fun!!
You will never hear from my side things such as ‘Technology is evil, Videogames destroy our new generations, or Social media makes us feel lonely".
At the end of the day, I beg you, I’m not asking you! Do not treat you toddler as you were his servant.
You don’t have to take your boy from his mother at age 7, house him in a dormitory with other boys and train him as soldier (like ancient Spartans used to do), but at least support him to be independent and confident.
One last thing. Keep in mind all of the above but do never give up believing that your child, Riyad, Max, Bastien, Donald, Lee, is the most beautiful, most charismatic and smartest child in the world!