As if it weren’t scary enough to bring another person into the world, not to mention with the tools to act kindly and responsibly toward themselves and others, new parents are inundated with advice and cautionary tales. We have a lot of research on how newborns become relatively autonomous little people in three short years. We also have a broadening awareness of when developmental delays become evident.
So while there’s no definitive handbook for new parents, The Activity Kit for Babies and Toddlers at Risk offers a clear path to help caretakers take opportunities to promote crucial learning, thinking, and communication skills at appropriate stages during those important first thirty-six months.
The four authors’ clinical experience and research combine to create an enormously useful resource. The book looks at at-risk behaviors, outlines behavioral milestones to look for, and provides hundreds of age-appropriate science-based games and activities to improve vital communication and social skills during daily activities. Author Deborah Fein is a distinguished professor in both psychology and pediatrics at the University of Connecticut, and Marianne Barton is the department of psychology’s clinical professor and director of clinical training. Molly Helt is an assistant professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Trinity College and the parent of an autistic child. Finally, Lynn Brennan is a board-certified behavior analyst in Massachusetts who has worked with children on the autism spectrum for more than twenty years.
And autism spectrum disorders are where the authors begin, writing that “of all developmental disorders it is probably the best defined and described, and so the clearest body of research on successful intervention exists for children who have at least some characteristics of ASD.” Fein, Barton, Helt, and Brennan also share other global developmental conditions: not understanding language without gestures, not making eye contact or listening, and attachment issues, to name a few.
Screening for ASD and other developmental delays takes time, the authors write, and even if there is an early diagnosis, professionals can’t provide the concentration of attention a parent can.
“Most children develop typically regardless of their environment,” the authors write. “However, children with social and emotional delays often need extra practice with language and social skills, and they often need this practice in a way that makes language and social signals they are receiving extra clear to them.”
The authors go on to offer information and developmental activities to stimulate a range of babies: healthy babies; babies who have already been diagnosed with ASD or other global developmental delays; and babies who might be at risk for any number of reasons, including medical, neurological, and genetic issues, premature birth, low birth weight, and adoption.
These activities are simple and easy to understand and apply to every moment of a family’s day. The authors provide things to do when the baby wakes up, gets dressed, eats, plays, comes along for errands, and goes to bed. They also include lists of words, books, pictures, and other sources for additional support, giving a trove of information to new parents.
The Activity Kit for Babies and Toddlers at Risk: How to Use Everyday Routines to Build Social and Communication Skills
The Guilford Press, December 2015
Paperback, 240 pages