Developmental Milestones: Get the Facts

Cerebral Palsy Information, Child Development, Tips for Parents

Mother with special needs daughter at the park

While developmental milestones can be tremendously helpful in gauging a child’s mental and physical development, they are only guidelines. No two babies are alike and no two develop in the same ways or at the same rate, though most reach these milestones at similar ages. If your child was born prematurely, or has other challenges to face, your doctor can help you understand their unique developmental milestones. A child’s development also depends greatly on their environment, because children reach milestones through playing, learning, speaking, interacting, and moving (crawling, walking, etc.).

It’s important for parents to pay attention to their child’s development because, according to research, parental concerns detect 70% – 80% of all disabilities in children. The earlier a disability is diagnosed, the earlier the child can get the specialized care they need[IM1] .

How to Recognize Your Child’s Developmental Milestones

There are basic developmental skills which lay the foundation for all learning and development. Although all children develop at their own rate, growth can be defined in the following areas:

  1. Intellectual Development – These skills include speaking, learning to read, recognizing pictures, colors, shapes etc. These complex mental functions are important to monitor, as they indicate normal development of a number of underlying skills such as sensory skills and deductive reasoning.
  2. Gross Motor Skills – These major milestones include head control, sitting, crawling, maybe even starting to walk. Children exhibiting a delay in gross motor skills need to be evaluated as early as possible so they can start getting physical therapy to help them strengthen their muscles.
  3. Fine Motor Skills – This more refined muscle control allows a child to hold a spoon or pick up a piece of cereal with their fingers. Children exhibiting delays in these skills will have difficulty holding tools or utensils, manipulating small objects or grasping items between their thumb and fingers.
  4. Sensory Skills – These skills include seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling. Children experiencing difficulties with sensory processing may exhibit either a “hyper” (over) or “hypo” (under) sensitivity to stimulation of the senses.
  5. Language – A child experiencing a delay in language skills may lack the muscle strength in the mouth and tongue to control sounds or may have trouble hearing or processing sound.
  6. Social and Emotional – Social and emotional milestones are often harder to pinpoint than signs of physical development. A child from birth to 12 months who has trouble processing sensory input or who has poor control of movement because of a brain injury may be delayed in: crying to express distress or to attract attention, fixating on faces, smiling purposefully at people, cooing or laughing to attract attention, playing “peek-a-boo” or other games.

Get more information about developmental milestones on our Intellectual Development Milestones page, and take our milestone quiz to see if your child is on track with their developmental progress. If you think your child is not meeting their developmental milestones contact your doctor to share your concerns.

We’ve created a developmental milestones infographic to help parents understand and track their child’s development. Make sure to print out this page and use it to identify the milestones as your child reaches them. Ask your doctor for help in customizing these milestones for your child’s unique needs and circumstances.

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