Homes must be safe places for children to grow – Svymbersky


A HOME needs to be a safe place for a child to grow and develop, says speech language pathologist Lauren Svymbersky. Svymbersky, a Special Hope Network director of education, said research showed that beating a child could cause psychological damage and may even contribute to a child performing poorly in school.


“Also, punishment in general is not the most effective tool to change behaviour. Rewarding positive behaviour is proven to change behaviour much more effectively than punishment. It teaches a child what they should do, not only what they shouldn’t do,” Svymbersky said after a workshop organised by the Developmental Intervention Clinic to impart skills and knowledge to special education teachers and parents with children with communication behaviour and cognitive challenges. “For example, if you punish a child for screaming, they only know they should not scream. If instead you praise them for talking nicely, they know now exactly what they should do.”


She said while this connection seems obvious to adults, for young children, it may not always be so clear and thus praising or rewarding positive behaviour is a stronger indicator for them of how to act properly.

“That being said, there is a time and place for punishment; however, it should correlate to the behaviour. For example, if a child is acting bad with friends, the punishment is that they do not get to play with friends. Beating them does not correlate to their behaviour, it only scares them,” Svymbersky said.


She said one of parents’ many roles in a child’s life is to be their number one teacher, especially when it comes to social and emotional development. Svymbersky said children learn from watching and pick up behaviours.


“If they see fighting at home to resolve conflict, they’ll learn to fight instead of using communication to solve problems. Home needs to be a safe place for a child to grow and develop. Teaching empathy (to put yourself in another’s situation and understand how they feel), compromise and problem solving and sharing are some of the essential tools and they all start at home with the parents. Most importantly, parents need to be actively involved in their child’s life. The first step to this is with babies: daily face-to-face interaction and play with the baby is key to the development of young children and sets a foundation for being an involved parent,” Svymbersky said.


She also discouraged arguing and bargaining with children (“If you stop crying, I will give you a biscuit”) and advised against breaking promises made to them. And Svymbersky said there were many types of intellectual disabilities that can affect a child’s development in social, movement and communication.

“If a parent has concerns, they should go to their local clinic or be referred to UTH when they first suspect the child is developing differently or delayed,” she said.


Svymbersky said challenging behaviour was any conduct that interferes with children’s learning, development, and success at play, or that which is harmful to the child, other children, or adults or puts a child at high risk for later social problems or school failure.


“These behaviors are the child’s way of telling us something, it is our job to figure out what they are trying to communicate. If a child doesn’t know multiplication, we teach. If a child doesn’t know the letters, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to behave, our inclination is to punish. We should be teaching good behaviour in every opportunity,”  said Svymbersky.


And UTH-children’s hospital paediatrician Dr Lisa Kafula Nkole said children would commonly present in the toddler-preschool period with  delay in speech and/or language disorders.


Dr Nkole said speech and language disorders were more common in boys than girls. She said when assessing such a child, the medical personnel will look at his/her mothers antenatal history for whether there were any infections or other illnesses in her pregnancy.

“The period around and immediately after the delivery of the affected child should be evaluated with particular attention to premature delivery, yellowing of the eyes, presence of convulsions and/ or infections. We also look at the family history for deafness or speech and language delay, past medical history such as recurrent ear infections. The more ear infections one has, the more likely they are to develop hearing loss and this child may present with a delay in speech development,” Dr Nkole said.

She said early detection and intervention ensure optimal outcome in communication capabilities. Dr Nkole said interventions become difficult when the child is brought to the hospital after the age of five. And Dr Nkole said all children with autism have a degree of language impairment and most would present with delay in speech development.

“But not every child who can’t speak has autism. Up to about 25 to 30 per cent of children with autism begin to say some words and then stop between 15 to 24 months,” she said.

Dr Nkole said such children should be taken to for neuro-developmental assessment at a health facility close to the family. She said language and speech disorders when treated early and appropriately generally improve over time, though the outcome is different with each particular child.

“Early recognition, assessment and intervention should be encouraged when parents have concerns about speech and language development,” said Dr Nkole.

The Developmental Intervention Clinic is based at the University Teaching Hospital – Paediatric Centre of Excellence, and is funded by the Centre for Infectious Disease Control (CDC). It is a multidisciplinary clinic consisting of two physiotherapists, occupational therapist, a communication teacher currently training as a speech therapist and a nurse counsellor and a psychologist.

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