SECOND THOUGHTS : Late developmental check: do not adjust your child

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Our local health centre struggles to do its best with depleted resources. So it's not very amazing to get a photocopied letter from the Baby Clinic, inviting me to bring my four-year-old daughter for a two-year-old's "toddler developmental check".

Something's gone wrong with the system somewhere. But then these people have a lot on their plate. So I phone to alert them to the mistake.

"Ah yes," says the health visitor, "it is actually a toddler check-up."

"But she's not a toddler."

"A bit late, I know. We're just catching up."

"But will it be relevant? If she's four?"

"Well, every child has to be checked."

How can I argue? Of course she's right. We make an appointment.

"What a waste of time," my partner exclaims. "Don't go. What exactly are they checking for?"

Good question. Chloe's already had a possible hearing problem identified and the audiologist's on the case. Otherwise she's a fully-fledged child; she's apparently passed all appropriate landmarks.

I ring back: "Sorry, but what exactly does the check consist of?"

"Oh, motor skills, play, behaviour, you know ..."

I report back to partner. "Oh, that's ridiculous," he says. "You don't need to go."

But this is our child's health. In this house, my partner does all cooking, washing, repair of any item that breaks, handling of finances, gardening and DIY.

And I do health. Health and teeth.

The day of the check, we could really do without it: Raphael (nearly three) has been sick in the night and his left eye is glued up by conjunctivitis. We're all shattered and I haven't been near my desk for two days. We take a portable potty and a half-packet of digestives and wander up the lino corridor at the appointed time.

"I'm afraid it's a brand new format," the health visitor says. "We haven't done these tests before. How old is she?"

"Four. And a bit."

"Oh." She's crestfallen. "She's supposed to be three. These tests are for a three-year-old. Oh well, we'll manage."

"They can't be adjusted?"

"No, we just have to do them."

It is agreed that Raphael - never a boon to concentration - must stay in the reception room with the other health visitor. I leave him lying grumpily on the floor, kicking at a chair leg.

Chloe sits at a little grey plastic table, and I kneel on the floor next to a yellow bin. I have a peculiar soft spot for this stark, grey room: every gynaecological aspect of me has been examined here; all my babies' heartbeats heard here for the first time.

"I'm Beatie," says the health visitor. She frowns at the yellow form. "Does she dress herself?"

"Oh yes."

"And feed herself?"

"Yes, of course."

"Do you have any worries about her behaviour?"

"Er, no." (Her mother's behaviour is quite another question.)

"Can I see her walk?" Chloe saunters to the door - a silly, drunken walk, tongue hanging out. "That's fine."

"Is it really worth it? Checking a four-year-old can walk?" I ask in my there's-nothing-I-like-better-than-testing-my-children-for-things-I- know-they-can-do voice.

Beatie shrugs. "I can't fill out the form if I don't do the tests."

A tap drips. Outside, a dog is barking a chained-up sort of bark. "Look," I volunteer, "there's no point doing the hearing test. She's seeing an audiologist already."

"OK, just as well," Beatie agrees.

She takes several items from a small plastic case which has an ad for vaginal pessaries on the side. Three wooden bricks, a cup, an aeroplane, a fork, a knife, a naked doll with yellow nylon hair and dirty feet. "Can you put the bricks in the cup, Chloe?"

Chin propped on hand, Chloe sweeps the bricks up with the other and chucks them in the cup. Disdain worthy of Bette Davis. Motor skills, huh?

"Good girl. Now, what's this?"

"Aeroplane!"

"What does it do?"

"Fly!"

"What's this?"

"Knife!"

"And what's it for?"

Chloe rolls her eyes, "Pushing food on to your fork."

"What about for cutting?" says Beatie, scanning the form. "Cutting meat?"

"She's vegetarian," I offer quickly.

Beatie blinks. "OK. What does the dolly do?"

Chloe looks blank. "Don't know," she says, infinitely angelically, secure enough to say when she doesn't know. At 343/4 I, too, am struggling for an answer.

"Sleeps!" sings Beatie, "the dolly sleeps!"

"But her eyes are open," Chloe protests, as her score no doubt plummets. I laugh at her unabashed brilliance.

Next, Beatie holds up a sheet of some eight different letters and gives Chloe an identical sheet. When Beatie points to a letter on her sheet, Chloe is to point to the identical one on her own. Chloe messes up this test by simply reading the letters

aloud.

Beatie flusters: "Oh no, don't speak, just point." So Chloe co-operates and behaves like a three-year-old. Then, boredom turning to anarchy, she stands on the table.

"An ice lolly from the shop if you concentrate," I hiss.

As Beatie measures the circumference of Chloe's head, Raphael bursts through the door, furious. "He wouldn't do any crayoning," his chaperone says accusingly.

"I'm sorry," I falter. "He usually does." Get the At Risk Register: child Unfamiliar with Crayons.

I sign the form to say Chloe can do everything a three-year-old can do. "Time for a cuppa!" Beatie sighs.

Then I have a brilliant idea. "Raphael's three in less than a month. You couldn't do him while we're here, could you?"

"Oh, sorry, no." Beatie clicks her box file shut. "You'll have to wait for the letter." Which is where we came in.

We trail out, the kids digging in my bag for the digestives.

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