There are many factors that interfere with a baby's social development - mainly with interpersonal relationships or skills. Prematurity or prenatal stress can produce a vulnerable newborn. Hypersensitivity to auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic and oral experiences can interfere with the development of attachment behaviour.
Such a baby may avert his gaze when a parent communicates to him. He may stiffen when cuddled. He may resist when picked up. He may spit up feedings, have difficulty in swallowing or push them away resulting in discouraging warm nurturing. This in turn might add to any problem of development in the baby.
These problems are short lived if parents understand the cause and act desirably.
Medication given to the mother during child birth, lack of oxygen or intrauterine deprivation can make a newborn unresponsive when he is fed. They suck poorly, choke and tend to spit up. They respond to social cues very slowly in a low key manner. When pulled to sit, their heads lag and there is insufficient response to satisfy an eager, concerned parent.
Generally doctors explains that over time most of these babies will improve as their nutrition improves, as their medication reduces as their nervous system has the opportunity to achieve a new regulatory balance. If this does not happen, a neurologist should be consulted. In assessing a baby who has had a difficult start, one should look for the following aspects:
Interpersonal skills should continue to develop in the early months. In the first few weeks, babies learn to pay attention to social cues and to prolong that attention. A baby in this age group who does not show alertness to his mother's voice or who does not show excitement to his father's cajoling needs evaluation.
Gaze averting, frowning and turning away from social cues can be due to a hypersensitive nervous system. They can also be due to an environment that either overloads the baby or reacts inappropriately to him creating an expectation for failure in communication
A non smiling, non relating infant who responds with repetitive, meaningless behaviour and with a glazed, flat look in response to social cues could be showing signs of delayed social development. If a baby shows indifference to familiar people and toys, if his emotions seem flat, this is a cause for concern and immediate consultation with a specialist in behavioural paediatrics.