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Devon’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Local Offer

Early years – what you can do to support your child

We have put together some information about what you can do at home to support your child with some areas of their development.

How do I get my child’s needs identified and assessed?

Although it isn’t possible to screen your newborn baby for every illness or disease, in the UK, there are certain tests and examinations that can be offered to look for some medical conditions.

There are routine tests that are offered to all pregnant women, but you should also talk to your GP about your family history in case they suggest some additional screenings or tests. If you have symptoms or problems which suggest pregnancy complications, various other examinations and tests may also be advised.

  • Pregnancy screening aims to detect potential problems early so that you can get treatment or early diagnosis. Medical professionals will discuss pregnancy screening with you.
  • The newborn baby check is a physical examination of a child as soon as they are born. This is done by a doctor.
  • Newborn babies will also have their hearing checked – this could be done when the baby is born or very shortly afterwards.
  • Midwives work with a family before birth and through the early post-natal period, focusing on individual needs. Midwives will do a ‘blood spot’ test, where they prick the baby’s heel to take a sample of blood. This is usually around 5 days after birth.
  • Your GP will be notified of the birth of your child. You need to make an appointment to visit the GP within 6-8 weeks of the birth. At this appointment, the GP will do a post-natal check which will focus on the individual needs of the mother and baby.

Health visitors

Health visitors can support you and your child throughout their early years until they turn 5 years old. They are qualified nurses or midwives with specialist public health training.

They provide a child-focused service, are trained in child development and carry out screening and developmental reviews. They can also suggest services that may be able to help if you have any concerns about your child.

Children and Family Health Devon

Children and Family Health Devon provides Specialist Children’s Assessment Centres for children aged 0 – 5 years with significant developmental difficulties. The centres offer assessments in the most appropriate venue for you and your child.

Devon’s hospitals

Hospitals provide community paediatric services. Paediatrics is the branch of medicine that focuses on the development of children and the diagnosis and treatment of childhood illness. You can use NHS Choices to find a service near you.

South Devon children will be assessed at Torbay and South Devon Foundation Trust’s John Parkes Unit Child Development Centre.

General information

The NHS has developed a Birth to Five Development Timeline and Foundation Years has produced a ‘What to Expect, When’ guide which both offer more information about expected child development. Please be aware, however, that every child develops differently.


Online resources

You can try

Doing the same relaxing things in the same order and at the same time each night helps promote good sleep:

  • A warm (not hot) bath will help your child relax and get ready for sleep.
  • Keeping lights dim encourages your child’s body to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin.
  • Once they’re in bed, encourage your child to read quietly or listen to some relaxing music, or read a story together.
  • You could also suggest your child tries this relaxing breathing exercise before bed.

Who to talk to

If you’ve tried these tips but your child keeps having problems getting to sleep or sleeping through the night, you may feel you want more support. You can speak to your GP or health visitor to begin with. They may refer you to a child psychologist or another expert.


Children are able to control their bladder and bowels when they’re physically ready and when they want to be dry and clean. Every child is different, so don’t compare your child with others.

Online resources

You can try

  • Change your child in the toilet so that they get used to the toilet room as a place where wee and poo happens.
  • Put stickers or favourite toys in the toilet room so your child feels happy to be in there.
  • Accept that this will take a long time and praise every positive step towards the goal of independent toileting.
  • Create a routine and stick to it.

Who to talk to

If you’ve tried these tips but your child keeps having problems toileting, you may feel you want more support. You can speak to your GP or health visitor to begin with. They may refer you to a child psychologist or another expert.


Online resources

  • The NHS ‘Help your baby learn to talk’ is a step-by-step guide, by age, of things you can do to encourage your child to communicate effectively.
  • The I CAN website provides advice when you have a concern about a child’s speech and language development.
  • Talking Point progress checker can help check your child’s progress. Complete the questionnaire about your child to check the progress of their development, from 6 months to 11 years old.

You can try

  • Singing – you don’t have to sing well, but the music and rhythm of your voice can help develop a child’s speech.
  • Games – things like ‘point to the…’ or ‘Simon says’ can help develop children’s listening skills.
  • Repetition – a child may need to hear a word in context hundreds of times to be able to learn and remember it.
  • Face to face interactions – limit TV or screen time and talk to and play with your child.

Who to talk to

After trying these tips and using the progress checker, if you feel your child has problems with their speech and language and you want more support, you can speak to your GP or health visitor. They may refer you to a speech and language therapist or another expert.


Every child develops differently and walking may come later to your child. When babies start to walk they can be unsteady on their feet but can move very quickly. They will also trip and fall often. If your child is not walking by 18 months talk to your health visitor or GP.

Online resources

  • has produced a page on Developmental Milestones: Walking. This page gives an overview of what to expect when and ideas to encourage your child to walk.

You can try

  • Make sure your baby has the freedom to develop their muscles by kicking, wriggling and rolling.
  • Bounce and balance with your baby so they can learn about their body and improve their awareness.
  • Help your baby to try walking by holding their hands or arms and allowing them to try bearing weight on their legs.
  • Keep the floor clear so they have space to try out walking and allow them to use furniture to ‘cruise’ around the room with support.

Who to talk to

If you’re worried about your child’s walking or movement, talk to your health visitor or GP. Some special educational needs or disabilities, like Down’s syndrome or global development delay, can mean that milestones come later.

Your GP may refer you to a paediatrician for a more detailed assessment,  a physiotherapist where there are problems with your child’s muscles or an occupational therapist where your child needs extra support to learn how to walk.


Online resources

You can try

  • Use specific praise, like “fantastic sharing” so they know what they have done well.
  • Ensure your child has the opportunity to play with and interact with others.
  • Model play and interaction by doing it yourself, so your child can learn from your behaviour.

Who to talk to

See your GP or health visitor if you’re concerned about your child’s development. It can also be helpful to discuss your concerns with your child’s nursery or school.