I have long thought and known from expe­ri­ence that it only takes 24 hours a week to make a dif­fer­ence with a devel­op­men­tal­ly delayed child. 

Most espe­cial­ly the same qual­i­ty 24 hours a week giv­en to any child from the time they are 4 months of age (ear­li­er if pos­si­ble) will ensure that a child is NOT devel­op­men­tal­ly delayed — bar­ring spe­cif­ic med­ical issues. 

Of course a child will do even bet­ter if par­ents fol­low through with a sim­i­lar care­giv­ing style – usu­al­ly not the case!

17 years ago we start­ed car­ing for a baby girl. She ini­tial­ly came 3 days a week (a lit­tle over 24 hours a week) to our house and lived as if she was our third child (minus the con­tact with my hus­band who was at work); a lit­tle ‘sister’ for my two sons. 

After a year or so she stayed for 5 full days each week. She pro­gressed beau­ti­ful­ly. There was nev­er a ques­tion of any devel­op­men­tal delays. No child in my care from infan­cy has shown any devel­op­men­tal delays, despite hav­ing all their vaccinations! 

The arrange­ment worked out well because my niece was born in Eng­land at the same time and my sons could learn how a sim­i­lar baby would be devel­op­ing. (We’d done the same thing with a baby boy when their old­est boy cousin was born in England).

My old­est son hadn’t seen the now ‘not so lit­tle’ girl for a while until recent­ly. She has grown into a love­ly 17 year old and we take some cred­it for the quar­ter of her life she spent with us – she went to pre-school at 4 years of age. Her par­ents are most gra­cious, always intro­duc­ing us as the fam­i­ly that took such good care of her. 

My son com­ment­ed that it was very obvi­ous in their con­ver­sa­tion that this girl was a prod­uct of our home! I always thought that she turned out well but nev­er took cred­it for it.

Now I’m start­ing to won­der about my the­o­ry that 24 hours a week is an influ­en­tial peri­od of time in any young child’s life. 

It is def­i­nite­ly the length of time it has tak­en me, using my meth­ods, to bring anoth­er tod­dler (from about 15 months of age onwards — she had been in the dai­ly care of var­i­ous fam­i­ly mem­bers, includ­ing her father but not her moth­er, before then) out of the funk of her devel­op­men­tal and lan­guage delays – was she on the autism spec­trum? — I may nev­er know. 

But I def­i­nite­ly had to make spe­cif­ic changes and adap­ta­tions in my meth­ods (not to men­tion the vast amount of read­ing and learn­ing I did) to enable her to become rel­a­tive­ly main­streamed and more social­ly accept­able to her fam­i­ly – albeit no one in the fam­i­ly ever sug­gest­ed any form of delay exist­ed! (about the time I start­ed car­ing for her an old friend of ours did say ‘don’t you think she’s a fun­ny lit­tle thing?’)

Once when her par­ents switched to a cheap­er care­giv­er for the bal­ance of her week (I only worked as her part time care­giv­er) her lan­guage dis­ap­peared!!! I was so shocked because I had worked so hard and come so far with her that I had to ask her moth­er “what hap­pened to her language?” She said that the new care­giv­er didn’t talk much to them as par­ents “perhaps she’s not talk­ing to our daughter?”

The new care­giv­er was fired and the pre­vi­ous one rein­stat­ed. The child’s lan­guage returned; there was no per­ma­nent loss – phew.

That’s when I came to real­ize that the 24 hours a week had actu­al­ly worked (it was the com­bined time that two — one being me — friend­ly and enthu­si­as­tic care­givers worked and played with the child). When, as a 3 year old, this child showed readi­ness for toi­let learn­ing while I was in charge, it was the oth­er care­giv­er who eas­i­ly fol­lowed through with my lead and as a result the child was com­plete­ly trained with­in a week. 

The devel­op­men­tal growth in that child has been per­ma­nent. She has shown her­self to be bright, curi­ous and will­ing to learn. She is a strong willed soul, as is her whole fam­i­ly in some­thing of an extreme fash­ion! I doubt that any observ­able delays will be found once she enters for­mal schooling.

My oth­er the­o­ry is that chil­dren with devel­op­men­tal delays are for the most part also high­ly intel­li­gent (a fac­tor fre­quent­ly missed in the mod­ern care of babies and tod­dlers, hence ‘the ter­ri­ble twos’) so the rig­or of their ear­ly days needs to be full of inter­est­ing activ­i­ties, indoor or out­door – not activ­i­ties orga­nized by an insti­tu­tion or facil­i­ty but activ­i­ties of inter­est, planned to be child cen­tered by the par­ents or care­givers and on a one to one basis, mak­ing the child’s world an inter­est­ing place and intro­duc­ing them at the same time to real world activ­i­ties and a real world social life.

So there it is at a minimum:

* 24 hours a week
* Child centered
* One to one activ­i­ties which keep the child inter­est­ed and con­nect­ed with the world around them
* Con­ti­nu­ity of care­giv­ing prac­tices through­out each week
* All care lov­ing­ly given

What more could any child ask for? 

It’s only 24 hours a week!