Disorders in babies

A couple of weeks ago, at the monthly meeting of the Western Cape Association for Infant Mental Health, we were fortunate enough to host Prof Chris Milton, a paediatrician who is doing some very interesting and valuable research on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome at the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health University of Cape Town. Besides the alarming findings about the high incidence of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (44 to 88 in every thousand babies in some areas of the Western Cape), I was particularly interested in the way in which Prof Molteno and his colleagues measure infant distress.

The Alarm Baby Distress Scale (ADBB) was constructed by Prof Antoine Guedeney, president of the World Association of Infant Mental Health. The scale can be used by a range of infant health professionals to determine the baby’s level of withdrawal and behaviour during infancy. Special training is required in order to use the scale. The eight items of the scale are: facial expression; eye contact; general level of activity; self-stimulation gestures; vocalizations; briskness of response to stimulation; relationship to the observer, and attractiveness to the observer.

The great value of the ADBB scale is that it seems to be a good predictor of risk for an infant. A socially withdrawn baby could have an underlying physical illness, developmental or neurological problems, behavioural and emotional problems later on, and problems in the relationship between the baby and his or her caregivers. The point is that babies who appear to be socially withdrawn, quiet, unengaging and unresponsive are at risk. A withdrawn baby is a sign that all is not well with the baby, and further investigation is necessary.

The good news is that Prof Antoine Guedeney is going to be in Cape Town in April 2012 for the 13th World Congress of the World Association for Infant Mental Health. See the website for more details: Before the conference, Prof Guedeney will be presenting the ADBB at a ‘training village’ on the 16th April 2012. Find out more about this workshop directly on their website above, or contact me for more details.

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