We’ve all heard ‘he’s a bit slow’ or ‘she’ll do it in her own time’, but are they fair comments? Dr Ari Mihailidis, an expert in child development, sheds light on these fascinating first stages.
Babies go at their own pace and hit developmental milestones when the time is right.
Unless there is an obvious issue, the likelihood is at some stage you will have heard this piece of advice regularly dished out to parents by doctors and health visitors.
It may be that your child is a bottom shuffler or the only non-walker in your ante-natal group. The truth is that the vast majority of babies will find their own path and reach the same destination in the end.
Health professionals are there to reassure us and pick up on irregularities, but some feel that this one-size-fits-all assessment is inadequate. Skipping a developmental milestone like crawling could be the sign of something more complex, according to registered chiropractor Dr Ari Mihailidis.
“By certain ages we expect certain developments, so by six months the baby should be rolling and by eight to ten months they should be sitting and crawling. Ideally they should be walking by around 14 months.
“They are all integral phases. Some parents might just think it’s late or that they skipped crawling and went into walking, but that’s not an ideal progression because there’s a gradual sequence of stability that needs to happen in a particular way.
“When you deviate from the ideal development, you may get other issues further down the track.”
Australian Dr Ari helps babies and their parents through a method known as Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS). Though the name might sound rather daunting, the method is anything but.
Pioneered in the Czech Republic, Dr Ari describes DNS as a “unique rehabilitation approach which achieves exciting levels of improved function”. DNS is an overall strategy, involving an assessment, treatment and exercises.
Dr Ari, who set up his Wimpole Street practice with his wife after arriving here from Melbourne two years ago, has a background in sports and paediatric rehabilitation. As such, he uses his experience as a chiropractor and training in DNS to help his patients, young and old. But he has a particular interest in babies and their development.
“It’s almost like a mission for me,” says the 33-year-old, who has more than ten years of experience back home in Oz.
“I spend a lot of time educating parents about why development is important. I want to work with GPs and health visitors and people in medical professions and look at what happens before something goes seriously wrong.”
For example, he suggests that a baby who shows signs of coordination problems may go on to be labelled dyspraxic at school.
“There’s a lack of knowledge in this area and definitely a scepticism which is valid. Parents are repeatedly told there’s nothing wrong but suddenly when the child starts school they find there is a problem.”
Ari sees a huge range of conditions, from Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome to flat footedness and muscular imbalances.
“My role is to catch these problems early because as we age these things become harder to treat,” he says.
Parents may bring their children to him with a firm diagnosis or, more often than not, because they feel their concerns have not been fully addressed by mainstream health professionals.
Dr Ari says, “The first thing parents say is ‘I think there’s something going on with my child’, even if they can’t exactly be sure what that is.”
To begin with Dr Ari will perform a detailed assessment of the child.
“I observe the baby to see how they are moving. Are they crawling, sitting and moving on both sides? Then I will check the reflexes and see how they are integrated.”
Reflex checks are essentially neurological tests, he says.
“The brain tells us a story. The way the body works shows us how the brain is working.”
He checks the alignment of the spine, hips, arms and shoulders. He is also on the lookout for tight muscles and resistance in joints. In addition, he takes a full history during which he always asks about possible injuries and the mother’s experience during pregnancy and birth. Dr Ari then gives parents a detailed summation of his findings.
“I explain where they are and what their status is, developmentally and chronologically,” he says.
In follow-up appointments Dr Ari uses chiropractic techniques, but also stimulates certain contact points on the baby’s body as part of the DNS. He says, “This stimulates the brain’s control centre for stabilisation and restores ideal postures, movements and muscle tone. It aims to enhance the body’s neuro-musculoskeletal system which improves overall movements.”
The course of action and length of treatment depends on the child. “Some children just need exercises and advice and a check-up, and others need more intense work,” says Dr Ari.
An integral part of the strategy is the guidance that he gives parents to take home with them.
“In a way the parent becomes the therapist, so I might give them some exercises or gentle therapy to do themselves. Sometimes parents have their baby in a bouncer or walker and this leads to changes in the baby’s centre of gravity. So a lot of the advice might be about what not to do, in other words, things that might be adversely affecting development.
“The child should only be placed in positions that the child can get into themselves: crawling, sitting up, rolling.”
Poor stability can be responsible for a whole range of problems, according to Dr Ari.
“If the spine is misaligned it causes pressure on the nervous system. If there’s interference with the central nervous system the child might also experience sleeping/mood problems too.”
Describing his therapy as “gentle and natural”, he adds, “I look to improve development and long-term function, not just now but years down the track. The patterns that we have known as babies set us up for how we are as adults.”
Wendy Leonard describes herself as the “world’s biggest sceptic” when it comes to alternative therapies. But when the NHS refused to investigate her concerns about her daughter Amy’s development, she decided to try and seek help elsewhere.
“I was originally a bit concerned about my daughter’s gross motor ability, but it wasn’t anything major,” says the 34-year-old PR executive.
“She was 16 months old and wasn’t up and walking. She wasn’t using her left hip very well and her balance was quite poor.”
Now pregnant with her second child, Wendy had good reason to be concerned. She suffers from scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, and feared that Amy may have inherited her condition.
“It seemed to be similar because she was not using her left leg, which could potentially have led to scoliosis.”
She adds, “I was being fobbed off right, left and centre by the NHS, who kept telling me that I should keep an eye on her and come back in a couple of months. Meanwhile I could see her falling further and further behind her little friends.”
Wendy went online to see what other mothers had to say about delays in gross motor skill development at this tender stage. It was there that she stumbled across a recommendation for Dr Ari’s services. After an initial assessment, he agreed to help.
Wendy recalls, “Dr Ari observed all her movements and took some footage of her and tested all her reflexes and reactions. He did a full neurological assessment and asked us lots and lots of questions about her development, my pregnancy and her birth. He was really, really thorough.”
Dr Ari recommended some intensive therapy over the course of the next couple of months. The results were, according to Wendy, dramatic.
“I’m the world’s biggest sceptic but every time I brought her home there was some massive development. She went from strength to strength and very quickly was walking unaided around the sitting room with complete confidence.”
She adds, “Friends have said to me ‘How do you know it’s made any difference and that she wouldn’t have just done it anyway?’”
“I know all kids develop differently but I’m not stupid – I could see that something wasn’t quite right with my daughter. She has always been happy and well on target if not ahead with social skills and verbal stuff. It was an isolated delay.”
Wendy believes the therapy and exercises that Dr Ari performed with Amy were invaluable and describes him as “very, very good”.
She adds, “If you go to the GP they check to see if your child has cerebral palsy or a serious ailment. If not, you are just tossed out.
“I was so worried about it and I just wasn’t prepared to take the risk of waiting until she was two to see if something could be done. She might have risked developing scoliosis later on.
“We were in a fortunate position that we could afford to go to a private practitioner and I wanted to do the absolute best for my daughter.”
Visit their website – yourchildsdevelopment.co.uk