Why Isn’t My Child Meeting Developmental Milestones?

Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis, Child Development

toddler girl in purple sweater over blue circle reaching for orange developmental milestone icons in floating bubbles

If you’re like many parents, you’re keeping a close watch on your child’s progress toward developmental milestones. You also may be wondering what it means if your child is not reaching those milestones at the predicted pace.

What Are Some Common Developmental Milestones?

Babies typically reach certain milestones around particular points in their lives. Every baby develops at their own unique pace, so reaching milestones later than expected doesn’t always mean there’s a problem. However, a delay may signify the possibility of a problem. If your child has other risk factors and/or signs that they may have CP, and they are not reaching milestones at the predicted times, this could potentially mean they have cerebral palsy.

Important developmental milestones include:

  • Around six weeks: Your child starts smiling.
  • Around three to four months: Your child starts reaching for toys.
  • At around four months: Your child starts rolling onto their back.
  • Around six to seven months: Your child starts sitting without assistance.
  • Around 10 to 14 months: Your child starts walking.

Early Signs of Cerebral Palsy

Babies with cerebral palsy often have developmental delays. Babies may reach milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, or walking more slowly than other children at the same age. Failure to meet milestones in babies, combined with the following signs, may mean that a child has cerebral palsy.

One sign that may indicate CP in children is abnormal muscle tone. This includes:

  • Hypotonia: Decreased muscle tone may make a baby seem relaxed or even “floppy.”
  • Hypertonia: Increased muscle tone may make a baby seem rigid or stiff.
  • Progression from hypotonia to hypertonia: An early period of decreased muscle tone may progress to increased muscle tone after a child is two or three months old.
  • Dystonia: Involuntary muscle contractions, causing repetitive or twisting movements.

A child with cerebral palsy may also favor one side of their body or have unusual posture when they:

  • Reach
  • Crawl
  • Move

As your child gets older, they may show other signs that may indicate an underlying problem such as CP.

Babies younger than six months may:

  • Feel stiff
  • Feel “floppy”
  • Stiffen and cross their legs when picked up, or scissor their legs when picked up
  • Have their head lag when picked up as they’re lying on their back

Babies older than six months may:

  • Be unable to roll in either direction
  • Have difficulty bringing their hands together and/or bringing their hands to their mouth
  • Reach out with only one hand while keeping the other hand in a fist

Babies older than 10 months may:

  • Be unable to stand without holding onto something for support
  • Crawl in a lopsided way. This can include pushing off with one hand and leg and dragging the opposite hand and leg.

What to Do if Your Child Isn’t Meeting Developmental Milestones

If you think your child isn’t reaching developmental milestones at an appropriate pace, there are a few steps you can take. These include:

  • Completing a milestone checklist.
  • Asking your doctor about developmental screening. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for general development using standardized tools at 9 months, 18 months, and 30 months.
  • Asking for a referral.
  • Asking for an evaluation.

Your child may get a referral to a specialist for more in-depth evaluations. Specialists may include:

  • Child neurologist: A doctor who deals with the brain, nerves, and spine
  • Child psychologist/psychiatrist: A doctor who specializes in the human mind and behavior
  • Developmental pediatrician: A doctor with special training in child development and special needs

You can call the early childhood system in your state for a free evaluation to find out if your child can access intervention services. You don’t need a medical diagnosis or a doctor’s referral to start this step. Depending on your child’s age, who you need to call will vary:

  • Contact your local early intervention system if your child is younger than 3 years old.
  • Contact your local public elementary school and say you have concerns about your child’s development and want to have your child evaluated through the school system if your child is older than 3 years old. Your child does not need to go to school there for you to make this request.

You Know Your Child Best

Not all babies reach the same milestones at the same ages. Parents sometimes look for children to reach milestones in a straightforward, linear way, and that’s not always what happens. Some children may simply reach certain milestones a bit later than other children their age, and that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an underlying problem.

That said, as a parent, you know your child best. If you think there might be a problem, you should speak with your healthcare provider for further analysis and testing. The earlier you access services for your child if they do have cerebral palsy, the better for their continued progress.

If your child is failing to meet developmental milestones and you suspect that they may have cerebral palsy, it’s possible that medical negligence or malpractice is to blame. If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy could have been prevented by a medical provider, contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC today. We’ve helped more than 30,000 families across the country and can help you, too, if you have a case for compensation.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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