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In the first two years of life, a child experiences the most dramatic growth and development that they will ever experience in their lifetime. If you are a new parent, you may or may not be familiar with what to expect at each stage of development as your child grows. “When will my child start walking? How many words should my child be saying on their first birthday? Is my child growing enough for his/her age?” There are so many questions. Thankfully, there are answers to all of them.
Pediatricians and child psychologists observe and record a child’s mental and physical development, which are referred to as milestones, and compare these measures with a standard norm or average for children of the same age and gender. These standard measures of comparison have well established growth and intellectual markers that nearly all children will achieve at each milestone age. For example, a baby will start to take steps between the ages of 9 to 12 months of age. Typically, a toddler will be walking well by the time they reach 14 or 15 months. If a toddler is 18 months and still not walking, this would become a concern that a parent should take up with a pediatrician. The milestone age for walking is between 9 and 15 months, and 18 months should be a little red flag to examine further.
Developmental delays are delays in physical skill or level of maturity that a child was expected to achieve but has failed to do so within the normal age range that most children will.
Types of developmental delays can include any of the following:
- Language delays in speech, physical gestures such as waving or imitation of sounds.
- Motor delays such as walking, crawling, sitting or standing at appropriate ages. Some children may have difficulty manipulating toys or puzzles. Extreme reactions to touch, textures or pain can also be an indication of motor delays.
- Social and emotional (neurodevelopmental) delays are apparent in children who have trouble regulating emotions, show exaggerated aggression and upset or have trouble reading social cues while interacting with others.
- Cognitive delays (another aspect of neurodevelopment) can hinder thinking skills, reasoning, memory and the ability to learn.
Here is a general guide for some milestones ranging from infancy up to four years of age. If your child misses one or two, this doesn’t necessarily indicate a developmental concern. However, there is no harm in consulting with a pediatrician if there is something that you feel your child should be doing at a certain age or stage of infancy or toddlerhood.
What Causes Developmental Delays in Infants and Toddlers?
The causes of developmental delay are not always understood. Some DDs are due to genetic factors, prenatal health, birth complications, infections that the mother may have transmitted to the baby, exposure to environmental toxins or injury to the fetus or baby after birth.
However, there are risk factors that are well established such as: smoking and drinking during pregnancy, drug use during pregnancy, poor prenatal care, or a mother’s poor nutrition habits during pregnancy which can all lead to low birth weight and premature birth. Being born too soon and weighing too little are well established factors that often lead to developmental disabilities.
Mothers who are carrying multiples should also take extra precaution to maintain good prenatal health and care during pregnancy to encourage healthy birth weights and the longest gestation period possible.
After a child is born, it is important to monitor the bilirubin count in their blood if jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes) is present. Jaundice can cause significant problems with hearing and vision if left untreated. Cerebral palsy is also more likely if there is any brain damage if jaundice is left untreated.
Race and ethnicity are not associated with developmental disabilities. Socioeconomic status is also not a prerequisite to developmental disabilities either. Developmental disabilities can affect children from various ethnic backgrounds and economic groups.
How Do I Know if My Toddler Has a Developmental Delay?
The best way to monitor an infant or toddler for developmental delays is to make sure that they are receiving regular health checks with a pediatrician. Well checks include more than immunizations, measuring and weighing your baby. Your pediatrician is also checking reflexes, hearing, vision and motor responses that should be present at each visit.
The second best way to monitor an infant or toddler is to observe your child and follow your instincts. If you feel that your infant or toddler is not responding as they should to sounds, sights, touch or even to feedings it might be worth a visit to the pediatrician.
Developmental milestone charts are always an easy way to ease or confirm concerns that you may have about your child’s development. The CDC is one of many developmental milestone resources available online to refer to. Your pediatrician can also provide you with information to take home. There are also milestone tracker apps available for mobile devices that help to monitor your child’s development. These tools are helpful to refer to when you aren’t quite sure if your child has reached important markers of development. For example, if a child is 6 months old and has only met half of the milestones that should have been achieved at 3 months old then it could indicate a developmental delay.
What to Do if You Suspect a Developmental Delay in Your Child
If it appears that your child is not achieving the milestones for his or her age, it is best to speak with your pediatrician as soon as you take notice. There are developmental screening tools that can be utilized at each age to identify whether further evaluations are necessary.
Early screening is important because any delays in physical, cognitive, emotional or speech can lead to significant problems in school later on. The sooner a developmental delay is identified, the faster you can pursue the right course of action to help your child. The rate of success for children who receive early intervention in academics, behavioral issues and developmental delays is significantly higher than those children who are diagnosed with delays in late childhood.
If you think your child might have a developmental delay, the best thing to do is take them to see a pediatrician or diagnostician who can assess and diagnosis autism or other developmental delays. If you’re in the New Jersey area, Circle Care has already done the research for you to make finding a provider easier! Just fill out our diagnostician form, and someone from our team will be in touch soon!
As soon as your child has been evaluated and diagnosed with a developmental delay, ask your doctor for referrals to professionals that can work with your child at the earliest opportunity.
As mentioned above, the most common developmental delays that are diagnosed in children fall into the four main categories of cognitive, motor, social/emotional (behavioral), and speech.
Cognitive delays affect intellectual functioning and cause learning difficulties. Some examples of cognitive developmental delays include Down Syndrome, seizure disorders and the effects of infection or brain injury.
Motor delays affect coordination of large and small muscle groups and are often associated with genetic conditions that affect body structure and proportion such as dwarfism. Cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy are also examples of motor development delays.
Speech delays are noticeable by unintelligible speech or the inability to form coherent sentences. Speech delays can be associated with cognitive delays, hearing loss or genetics. Children with autism often struggle with speech delays.
Social, emotional and behavioral developmental delays are most commonly seen in attention deficit disorders and autism spectrum disorders. Children on the autism spectrum have difficulty regulating their emotions which lead to behavioral problems. They also have difficulty with communication due to delayed cognition and delayed speech.
If your child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder it is important to find the right help as early as possible. The team at Circle Care Services is here to help. At Circle Care, children and their families receive the best behavioral help for their child with supportive and compassionate care. We develop an effective course of treatment in partnership with speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists.
At Circle Care we believe in early intervention for the greatest outcome for your child with autism. We will provide the ABA, OT, and speech or we can partner with your existing OT and speech therapy providers, so that your child overcomes the developmental obstacles that challenge them. Give us a call and let us join your team.