Social and Emotional Challenges

Children with developmental delays in many different diagnoses also struggle with emotional developmental delays. This is frequently overlooked in favor of considering the strengths and weaknesses of what we can physically observe. The truth really is that every single experience we have is linked to an emotional experience.

Here follows some aspects to consider with regards to children with developmental delay

  • Developmental delay causes a poverty of exploration of different emotional themes that would contribute to insecure emotional development
  • Developmental delay decreases opportunities with regards to play, which in turn decreases exploration of emotional development
  • Emotional development follows on physical and central nervous system development
  • If environmental stimuli is bothersome to the child, the emotional adaptive response will also be one of a negative association, and lead to inappropriate behavioral responses
  • If the child feels insecure about receiving stimuli from his or her environment, this would also lead to an emotional insecurity.
  • Emotional memory is strong and frequently simply the idea of some activity or place sets a child off into an adaptive response of anxiety and fear. These emotional memories could be recalled cognitively such as memory after age 2, but also be memories of implicit nature, before the age of 2, which cannot be recalled cognitively.
  • Children have to undergo different stages of emotional development and each stage is important to harness fully.
  • We have observed in many cases that even when the work in the central nervous system has been successful, the child may still have a lingering mistrust of challenges and might take longer to respond functionally at home or in school due to past insecurities.


At ATA we consider each intervention program from a central nervous system perspective as well as from an emotional perspective. To us, the developmental stress of our children is sometimes as strong as struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and we should not take this situation lightly.

Social Skills Training

To have social skill requires the cooperation of all the cranial nerves of the brain and is considered a high order function of the brain.

At ATA we consider.

  • The developmental profile of the child in terms of readiness for the social aspect of life.
  • The ability of the child to take in information from the environment, from peers, and assimilate the information.
  • The ability to play in a sequential manner that would make sense to a peer partner.
  • The ability to play, do and talk at the same time.
  • The ability to understand the perspective of others and to have empathy with others.
  • The ability to understand relationships one-on-one first before being able to deal with more than one relationship.
  • The ability to multi-task and being flexible when plans are changed.
  • Vygotsky’s principle, the zone of proximal development (ZPD), should be considered. This concerns the fact that if the child is working at one level, and we are expecting skill at a much higher level, the child will either withdraw and shut down, or the child will learn by rote memory, or the child will flee from the situation, but integration is not possible. It is very important to plan intervention on the level of the child, so as to gain his or her spontaneous involvement in the process.
  • Simply placing the child in a group without considering the above, is to run the risk of accommodative patterns in the brain and not direct pathways that will reinforce a flexible, social mind. This does not mean a child cannot attend pre-school or school if he or she is “not ready”. In fact it is great to expose children to the natural environment. What is not good is to expect the child to participate on a level that they cannot achieve. The expectation level is the difference here. If the child could simply observe, while they are working through the above pointers, that would be a great experience for most children.

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