Often, parents ask me why children engage in certain behaviors. We have looked at a variety of reasons—because the behavior achieves the intended purpose, because it meets some sensory needs or because it is because it is part of a cycle of behavior that is characteristic of children with Down’s Syndrome. Are there other reasons? Yes there are.
One reason that hasn’t been discussed is that the behavior is developmentally appropriate. If you have ever wondered why your preschooler insists on throwing everything off his/her high chair tray, you will understand the developmental explanation. Children at his/her age are just learning about object permanency, and he/she is experimenting. Does a toy that is tossed off the tray continue to exist? When they see it on the floor, it is proof that it continues to exist, It takes a number of repetitions before a toddler can have the principle firmly established. Unfortunately, the repetitions are usually very unpleasant for adults who are involved!
Similarly, there are many actions that are developmentally appropriate. “No!” from a two-year-old is hardly surprising. Eye-rolling from a teenager is also developmentally appropriate. I find that many four year old boys seem to develop a pattern of challenging authority, somewhat like we see in preadolescent males. This is not really “bad” behavior, but is a pattern that does present some challenges to caregivers. These elements of growth are developmental, but can also be difficult.
Children with special needs often show a similar pattern of developmentally appropriate behaviors even though their cognitive profile may not be the same. Some parents are surprised to have their impaired teenagers begin to show typical “push back” behaviors that are characteristic of non-handicapped teens. Disabled two year olds will also develop the “no” stage in spite of their handicapping conditions. Young adults with disabilities do develop a desire to have relationships with the opposite sex and often want to leave home to establish their own independent lives. Sometimes these behaviors are not understood and parents are often unprepared to deal with these “normal” types of behavior. Interestingly, the types of parental response to these behaviors is usually the same—good limits, appropriate amounts of freedom and lots of teaching of appropriate behavior.