Identifying ‘Just Noticeable Differences’ for Optimal Learning Readiness
Dr Jane Williams and Dr Tessa Grigg
Children who have in place the essential neurological foundations for optimal development, do not display Just Noticeable Differences (JNDs). JNDs are the ‘little developmental hiccups’ that usually do not warrant medical intervention or a complete developmental assessment but may cause behaviour or learning challenges once a child heads off to school.
Everyone expects their children to learn once they get to school – and may blame the teachers if they do not. Yet many children enter school without the skills required for learning and so learning is a real struggle. It is therefore imperative that any JNDs be identified before school age and appropriate preventative care be implemented.
JNDs may not be cause for medical concern but they can make the difference between just coping or really enjoying academic success. So, rather than wait and hope a child will grow out of it, it’s important to recognise that JNDs exist, that they have an impact on later learning and that there are things that can be done to correct them before a child reaches school age. It is more than likely that children with JNDs are extremely intelligent… it’s just that these developmental hiccups hold them back.
What causes JNDs?
JNDs can arise from numerous causes and certain experiences will increase a child’s risk of JNDs. For example; a premature birth, or a long, difficult birth that causes the baby some form of distress; exposure to extremely high levels of stress; lack of early sensory-motor opportunities; chronic illnesses, amongst other things, may predispose a child to JNDs. Most of these are out of parents’ control and even though most parents work hard to do the very best for their baby and child, the JNDs still arise. Sometimes there is no known explanation for the occurrence of JNDs.
The good news is that GymbaROO-KindyROO centres are staffed by qualified personnel who are aware of these JNDs and can offer appropriate corrective activities or suggest other professional help.
What to look for
In the past, it was rare for anyone to pay attention to JNDs before a child reached school and began to struggle, but today we know more, we know what to look for and we know what to do.
JNDs in babies
- ‘Fidgety’ or general movements (between weeks six and twelve) are weaker or stronger than expected. This may reflect muscle tone that is lower or higher than expected1.
- Head lifting and pushing up on arms are delayed
- Does not like tummy time. Free GymbaROO tummy time video and tips here.
- Bottom shuffles, bear walks, rolls everywhere, does not crawl or creep, or creeps in a pattern other than the cross-pattern creeping on hands and knees. More here.
- Always unhappy
- Has difficulty feeding
- Has recurring ear infections
- Not babbling
JNDs in 12 months to 2½ years
- Cries frequently, unsettled
- Slow to gain good balance, walking, and not running by 18 months
- Does not have a strong grasp – can’t hold body weight by hands on the trapeze or when tick-tocking holding onto a parent
- Dislikes spinning
- Sensory timidity – dislikes massage, noise, bright lights, lumpy foods etc.
- Poor balance, muscle tone and coordination
- Can’t jump with both feet off the ground by 2 ¼years old
- Behaviour atypical – tantrums at this age are typical, but not all the time!
JNDs in 2½ to 3½ years
- Unable to ride a trike by three years of age
- Unable to cross over the midline in exercises
- Standing on one foot is impossible
- Slow speech – hard to understand
- Has difficulty following instructions
- Poor muscle tone and coordination
- Difficulty moving own limbs with rhythm
- Slower than their peers
- Still clinging to parent for safety
JNDs in 3½ years to 4½ years
- Motor skills delay – not cross-patterned in movement, can’t skip along, kick a stationary ball
- Drawing immature – not yet representational
- No preferred hand or preferred side
- Cannot do cross-pattern progression across the overhead
- Unable to cross midline physically or visually
- Poor finger awareness – by this age a child should know pointer, the thumb and usually ‘pinky’!
JNDs in 4½ years to 5½ years
- Developmental delay in movement skills and concentration
- Hyperactivity – unsettled behaviour
- Changes hands at the midline
- Does not know left or right side
- Cannot gallop or skip
- Does not draw a person with head, body, limbs and facial features
- Visual tracking and other visual problems
- Hearing/speech difficulties
- Read more: School readiness: Is my child ready for school? A checklist
If you have concerns about any of the above, please ask your GymbaROO-KindyROO teacher and/or your local health professional for advice. Your concerns should be taken seriously. If you are ‘brushed off’ and told you are being ‘over-concerned’, consider seeking a second opinion. You are a child’s most important advocate, as you spend more time with your child than anyone else. If you have a concern, it is legitimate and important.
At GymbaROO-KindyROO we have a raft of activity ideas that you can put in place at home to assist your baby and child’s development so that JNDs are overcome. The sooner attention is drawn to your concerns, the earlier something can be done about it. This is important as the brains of very young children respond very quickly to the intervention. The older a child gets, the longer it takes for change to occur.
So, don’t worry if your child is displaying some of the above JNDs, there are solutions to all of them. We may also connect you to key health professionals, as a child will likely benefit from their services as well. At GymbaROO-KindyROO the most important part of our job is to help your children become successful and happy learners at school.
Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is a Director of GymbaROO-KindyROO. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development.
Dr Tessa Grigg (PhD, Dip Tch ECE and Primary) is the Research and Education Manager for GymbaROO-KindyROO. She has a wide range of experience teaching young children and adult students.
Bindy Cummings is a teacher, GymbaROO early childhood neurodevelopmental consultant and a long-time member of the GymbaROO-KindyROO Research and Education Team
- Pretchl, H.F.R. (2001). General movement assessment as a method of developmental neurology: new paradigms and their consequences. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 43 (12), 836-842.