Are you concerned whether your children are on par with the developmental milestones? Or you are wondering about ways to get your children to grow better in all the developmental areas? If these are your doubt, you are just in the right place! In our first episode of the third season of\u00a0 AskMeDoctor!, we are here with Dr. JoAnn Rajah, a paediatrician from FirstStep Child Specialist Clinic. We are going to walk you through the critical periods of a child during his early years and some health concerns that you may want to look into. Q1: What are child developmental milestones? Dr. JoAnn Rajah: Developmental milestones are things that most children can do by a certain age such as taking their first step, the first smile and even waving their first goodbye. In general, developmental milestones can be divided into five categories, namely: \tgross motor skills (learning how to use big body parts to sit, stand, walk and run) \tfine motor skills (learning to use small muscles to eat, draw, play and many more) \tlanguage skills (using body language and gestures to communicate and understanding the language of adults) \tcognitive skills (using thinking and problem-solving skills to build the ability to overcome future challenges) \tsocial skills (learning to interact with others and responding to others' feelings ) Moving on from his newborn developmental milestones, he would be able to do more complex things too as he grows up. Mind that not all children grow at the same rate, as every child is unique in his own way. Q2: Why are the first 5 years of child development so important? Your child will experience a better developmental spurt in his first five years with your support (Image credit: Canva). Dr. JoAnn Rajah: Within the first five years, a child will be able to form brain connections more rapidly, as compared to any other time in his life. In other words, a child develops brain connections the fastest in the first five years of his life. By the age of five years old, your child is actually having a brain that is almost 90% of your brain size. How fascinating is that! Other than the genetic factors, scientific research has shown that the quality of a child's experiences in the first few years of his life contributes to his brain development. On top of this, the experiences can actually affect his health and his ability to learn and succeed in school and life. Q3: How can we help our 1 to 5-year-olds reach their developmental milestones? Support your children's growth with quality time and interactions with family members. (Image credit: Shutterstock). Dr. JoAnn Rajah: Looking into a child's development, the relationships with his parents or caretakers build its foundation. Here's why. A child actually learns all the vital information about the world through his close relationships. This is even proven by different studies. Young children who were brought up in a very safe, stable and nurturing environment are healthier and more successful in school and lives. In such environment, children are involved in lots of positive interactions with their parents and caretakers. On the other side, young children who are deprived of love tend to develop less positive brain connections. Including children who are neglected and who experience domestic violence, their early development and future are hampered by their dysfunctional relationships with their parents and caretakers. With this, it is very important for parents to provide as much positivity, love and support as they can. Especially within the first five years of their children's lives. Additionally, parents should also provide their children with more opportunities to play and explore. Let's put this idea into these simple yet beautiful words: "Children play to learn and learn through play." Other than sensory toys, parents can even get their children, as young as a baby, to try out mirror play. Believe us; babies, they love to gaze into the mirror. Though it might seem that they are just looking at the mirror, it certainly helps them to learn to identify faces and track movement. What's more? This trivial play can actually help to build the tiny muscles of their hand by reaching out. Q4: Besides play and learning, what are the other things that can shape a child\u2019s early development? Encourage your child to exercise more to enhance his development (Image credit: Canva). Dr. JoAnn Rajah: Simply remember these three key points for a child's early development: playtime, nutrition and exercise. As many parents are aware of this, serving the children a well-balanced diet is essential. Just say YES to good nutritious food and say NO to fast food. Never allow children to have fast food on a regular basis. Make fast food as an occasional treat for the whole family. Next on, parents can focus on physical activities like exercising and positive interactions with their children. Q5: How do I know if my child is developing normally or if he or she needs help? Always remember that every child is unique and they grow at their own pace (Image credit: Canva). Dr. JoAnn Rajah: While parents nowadays are blessed to have developmental milestones checklist and tracker applications to track their children's progress, they need to be aware too that every child is growing differently. It's common to see a child to slow down in one developmental area while expanding his skills in another area. If parents are still concerned where they notice some milestones issue on how the child plays, learns, speaks, acts, or moves, do talk to their doctor. Don't hesitate to share your concern, as acting early would definitely make a significant difference! Q6: My child makes eye contact with me, but something about his interactions seems odd. How can I tell if my child has autism? Dr. JoAnn Rajah: As we have talked about issues in a child's developmental milestones, some parents might have worries about whether their children are autistic or not. Through interactions with their children, they notice that their children's personality seems a bit off. Before looking into some early tell-tale signs of autism, parents need to understand that autism is a spectrum disorder. Children can be autistic with different signs at varying degrees of severity. Generally, here are some early signs of autism besides lacking of eye contact: \tlack of interest in other people \tsuffer from communication difficulties \thave narrow interest \tportray repetitive behaviour For parents who are uncertain whether their child is lacking interest in other people, they can notice through daily interactions and occurences. Generally, children are always very curious and they always want to know what their parents are doing. Whether you are in the kitchen, living room and bedroom, they would follow you and ask: "Mummy, what are you doing?" However, this does not apply to autistic children. They are not keen to learn anything new or interact with others. Thus, if parents notice one or more of these behavioural signs above, talk to the doctor immediately. Autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Q7: What exactly is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Dr. JoAnn Rajah: Whenever we talk about ADHD, we would have children who have difficulties in paying attention, sitting still and doing things impulsively before thinking through the behaviours. So, what is ADHD actually? It is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by hyperactivity, difficulties in paying attention or controlling impulses. Additionally, do you know that ADHD is actually more commonly seen in boys rather than girls? And based on a community survey among Malaysian children and adolescents between the ages of 5 to 15 years old, three to four children are diagnosed with ADHD in every 100 children. Nevertheless, most experts would agree that the figure might be even higher due to unreported and undiagnosed cases. While ADHD children struggle to finish their given tasks due to the lack of attention, how can parents determine whether their child has ADHD or just generally active and on the go? Here are some keys of the diagnosis of ADHD: \tThe child struggle from paying attention, sitting still and portraying impulsive behaviour most of the time. \tThe above behaviour has directly affected their daily lives. Mind that most symptoms of ADHD can be noticed before the age of seven years old. https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/watch?vfuy_c1ZFLBk Protecting Your Children In Their Early Years For parents, it\u2019s important to keep in mind that your children\u2019s first five years is a crucial part of their development. Providing a safe, loving and secure environment for them to grow up in will go a long way towards fostering a brighter future for them. As a leading insurer and takaful operator, AIA Malaysia is committed to protect and support families at every stage of life with its Total Health Solution \u2013 enabling families to live well with AIA\u2019s unique health programme AIA Vitality, protect well with comprehensive and innovative product solutions, and get well with differentiated healthcare services that provide support from diagnosis to recovery. Image credit: AIA Malaysia In supporting families from pregnancy through to birth and beyond, you can rest assured that your children\u2019s healthcare needs will be fulfilled with A-Life Joy Xtra, a flexible all-in-one plan recently launched by AIA. Not only does the plan cover pregnancy-related complications from as early as 13 weeks of pregnancy, it also offers the option to enhance your protection to cover your baby\u2019s unexpected hospitalisation within the first 30 days of birth, as well as congenital conditions and child development disorders such as Autism and ADHD in the first five years of your child\u2019s life. Those who are looking for a shariah-compliant solution can consider the A-Life Ikhtiar Child Solution takaful plan. For more information about AIA\u2019s plans, offers, activities and more, check out AIA\u2019s Anakku Sihat, Negaraku Hebat campaign at www.aia.com.my\/anakkuhebat. Your children deserve a healthier and brighter future. Let\u2019s support them with good access to quality healthcare and protection during the most critical years of their childhood! If you wish to know about pregnancy, child care essentials and parenting from our group of experts, make sure you don't miss out on our next episode of AskMeDoctor!.