“I didn’t know how much my mom was there for me as a child until I become a mom myself,” says Dr. Brenda Hussey-Gardner. “When I became a parent, even with all the research I had as a PhD student in Early Childhood Development I still had questions and doubts about my own parenting.”

Parenting isn’t easy. Whether you are equipped with a lot of help, research, or are going solo, managing a family, especially at the beginning, can be daunting. Sometimes we need a little help. Dr. Hussey-Gardner has created a tool to assist parents with the first three years of their child’s development. The goal? To help with the questions, the doubts, and even the moments we want confirmed and celebrated from a mom who has also been there herself.

We caught up with Dr. Hussey-Gardner to find out more about PPOD, what personal experiences led her to develop the tool, and how it works.

PPOD Screenshot - (cool) progeny

PPOD: Parents and Pediatricians Optimizing Development

What is PPOD?

PPOD stands for Parents and Pediatricians Optimizing Development. It is an online informative tracking system and developmental support for parents to use between 0-3 years of age.

The information is organized around well child visits recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and 108 developmental milestones grouped into 11 “developmental strands”: Cognitive, Dressing, Eating and Drinking, Expressive Language, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Receptive Language, Sleeping, Social-Emotional, Toileting, and Growth. Each of these areas has specific information as to what they look like from 0-3 and simple activities to help support development on the go.

PPOD provides parents with the information they need at each stage of development so they can ask informed questions and provides pediatricians a quick visual reminder of areas of development to check during the child wellness visits. It also connects families to their doctors by allowing them to share developmental reports with real life day-to-day information instead of on the spot, let me see if I remember all the details, scenario that often happens to busy families during wellness visits.

Where did you get the idea for PPOD?

The design for PPOD is a combination of: Best Beginnings, a pamphlet I created during my Masters in Infancy and Early Childhood to help parents who had children in the NICU; my book Parenting to Make a Difference; and a little card I designed for the residents I teach development to at the University of Maryland School of Medicine called Pediatric Pocket of Development. I was always looking for ways to get all the information I knew to the people that needed it most- the adults taking care of children at the most critical time of development- the first three years.

In the last twenty-five years of working with families a the Developmental Specialist for the University of Maryland Medical Center NICU and NICU Follow-up Clinic, I often heard from parents about not being taken seriously when they had a hunch or knowing what to ask their pediatrician. I also listened to residents concerns about the pressures they face with the time they are allotted. Physicians have to be able to address everything a parent needs, complete required checks, and tend to the patient in a very short period of time. It was important for me to support them indirectly by providing them with a quick way to check for development within those constraints.

PPOD Screenshot - (cool) progeny

Why connect parents and pediatricians?

When I was born I was diagnosed with brain damage and cerebral palsy. I never crawled. I would get around scooting around on my butt and dragging my legs. I first walked when I was two and a half years old on the inside edge of my feet. My mom and grandma, my father was at war, did not have a lot of information to help answer their questions. They depended on faith and the little information that doctors were willing to share. I spent most of my life meeting doctors and trying to get answers.

After I earned my PhD I continued to need some care with my feet and had difficulty being taken seriously as a patient. As a mom I was always asking questions and often withheld information about my career and what I knew about development because I didn’t want doctors to assume I knew something and not tell me. I also didn’t want to be seen as telling them how to do their job.

As a Developmental Specialist I met parents who often felt unheard, at a loss as to how to help their children or where to get good information. Others simply wanted to know what to expect. Many parents didn’t know which questions to ask especially if there were other non-developmental concerns that needed to be addressed like asthma.

Parents and pediatricians are an important relationship that has a lot of impact on children. PPOD focuses on the partnership of caretakers and pediatricians around development in the most accessible format- an online digital tracking system where the widest audience can access this information at any time, anywhere they have signal.

How has your own parenting influenced PPOD?

PPOD is based in research but tested by real life. Before being a mom I knew the research and how to share it with parents. I would impart the information but had little personal experience to attach to it or understood how difficult some of those stages would be. I could talk to parents about how to get their baby to sleep through the night but I didn’t understand personally how difficult that was.

After being a mom I was able to combine some of my lived experiences with the research. I was able to speak to how difficult getting a baby to sleep through the night is, how tired you will be and heartbreaking it is to hear your baby cry but then also speak to how amazing it feels to be able to sleep so that you can be a better parent and co-worker.

 What is your goal for PPOD?

I want to make a difference. I sometimes feel like I haven’t made enough of a difference, that I am not reaching enough people. When I hear the impact information has on families I am in awe. If we don’t give the child every opportunity and the benefit of a doubt we will never know what is possible.

This can happen only when parents have the information to understand why and how their child behaves and how what they do encourages or deters that.

If PPOD can help families not worry as much, maybe change one aspect of their child’s care, make their relationship better by bringing them more joy in their parenting and help their child in some way, then that is pretty cool.

Getting Started with PPOD

The video on the website is a great place to start.

The paid version provides tracking for up to five children, 3 types of printable reports, and email sharing options with pediatricians.

Each developmental skill has easy activities to do in the car, shopping, in the bath, etc., at different times of the day (great on the go).

You can self refer to any Early Intervention Program from the EI section in the Learn More tab under the gear menu.

Want to add an activity you don’t see? Share it with Dr. Hussey-Gardner to add to the Activity of The Week under the Let Us Know tab under the gear menu.

PPOD is available for FREE. It provides viewing of all 108 PPOD milestones, warm everyday activities, safety tips, and other important content. All you need is an internet connection and device with Safari or Chrome browsers (perfect for touchscreen devices!). For $9.99, upgrade your experience to include tracking, the ability to record your child’s progress to create a meaningful, ongoing, and printable summary of their development; also allows you to email reports to your child’s pediatrician. FIND OUT MORE