While parenting styles differ greatly, most moms and dads want to do their best to ensure that their little ones grow and thrive. In this post, my friend Erin shares her experience with her babe, and what to do if you are worried that your baby is developmentally delayed. ~ Emily
Every mother that I know has compared their child’s progress to their neighbor’s kids down the street. I have decided that it really doesn’t matter when your child hits their milestones, just as long as they get to them eventually.
My little man is considered developmentally delayed. He's 22 months old and isn’t walking. In fact, he can’t even stand up by himself, or balance for more than 4-5 seconds without plopping back down on his diaper padded bum. He’s also a little behind on talking.
What does developmentally delayed mean?
The first thing that popped into my head when the pediatrician started throwing around the term developmentally delayed was autism. Come to find out, that is more of a worst-case scenario.
The term “developmentally delayed” simply means that your child isn’t reaching certain milestones by an expected age. When you start Googling “developmentally delayed”, the websites out there make you feel like you’re a horrible parent.
I’m going to add a few factors that I’ve learned over the past year to hopefully make moms like me feel better about their parenting skills.
What are the developmental milestones?
Developmental milestones are broken down into several different categories such as physical, cognitive, social and emotional, and communication and language.
Here’s a quick run-down of the expected developmental milestones for the first year:
3 Months: Holds head up, follows moving objects, recognizes your voice, giggles and babbling, smiles, enjoys playtime, shakes toys, recognizes your face
6 Months: Bears weight on legs, rolls over, starting to sit up, plays with hands and feet, grasps objects and passes them from hand to hand, raking grasp, starting to teeth
9 Months: Crawling, says mama and dada, babble conversations with you, eats with fingers, can sit without support, throwing ball, simple gestures, responds to voice tones, knows their name, loves games like peek-a-boo
12 Months: Standing and taking steps, eager to explore, pointing, pincer grasp, find objects, putting toys in and out of things, identify family members, respond to verbal commands, imitating more sounds, shows affection, helps getting dressed, starting to feed themselves.
Why do we track developmental milestones?
Keeping track of developmental milestones is important so you can know if your child is developmentally delayed. Unfortunately, there are a lot of children who go undiagnosed and never get the help they need.
“In the U.S., 2% of children have a serious developmental disability, and many more have moderate delays in language and/or motor skills. Yet, less than half of children with developmental delays are identified before starting school.” (source)
Another reason for tracking developmental milestones is so that you as a parent can do something as early as possible. Little Man was enrolled in an early intervention program when he was a year old and it was one of the best mom decisions I have ever made.
Little Man has a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist come to our home once a month to help him, and it's surprisingly very cheap.
This is a snippet from the brochure my program service coordinator:
“Neural circuits, which create the foundation for learning, behavior and health, are most flexible or “plastic” during the first three years of life. Over time, they become increasingly difficult to change. High quality early intervention programs for vulnerable infants and toddlers can reduce the incidence of future problems in their learning, behavior and health status and can change a child’s developmental trajectory and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. Intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later.” (source)
Should we worry if our child is developmentally delayed?
The answer to that question is: maybe. There are several factors to consider before you start to worry.
Each developmental milestone is a culmination of skills.
For example, your baby isn’t going to start feeding himself with a spoon. He has to learn to bring his hand to his mouth, how to pick up objects, how to grasp and hold onto objects like a spoon, and how to balance food on the spoon until it gets to his mouth.
Certain milestones will affect other milestones as well. Little Man’s speech pathologist explained that when a baby is reaching a major milestone (like Little Man’s walking), their other skills will sometimes plateau a little (like Little Man’s language).
Little Man's brain is so focused on learning to walk, his brain it’s not trying to learn to say a new word.
Each developmental milestone is a guideline.
Little Man’s speech pathologist told me that the milestones can have a range of +/- 6 months. In other words, even though a milestone says they should be doing something by 12 months old, you really have a timeframe from 6-18 months.
Your baby’s personality and environment will impact their development.
We have a little apartment, and spend most of our time in the living room/kitchen area. Little Man doesn’t really have a need to get up and go anywhere, because there isn’t really anywhere to go in the house.
Little Man is by far the most patient and laid back baby you will ever meet. He hardly ever cries, he’s very good at entertaining himself, he likes to observe, and he’s not a Mr. Destructor. He’s also very social and loves to laugh, smile, and give hugs and kisses.
Because of his personality, he doesn’t feel the need to get up to go and explore. He’s totally content to play with the toys within reach. His speech pathologist says his personality will be a blessing in the future.
Your baby’s physical characteristics could cause them to be developmentally delayed.
Little Man was 9 lbs 6 oz when he was born. The circumference of his head was off the charts. He literally created his own line well above the 100th percentile.
Because of his bowling ball head, he has taken a very long time to develop the muscles and coordination to develop his gross motor skills.
There are other indications that milestones are being reached.
For example, when it comes to communication, people automatically assume that since Little Man's not talking, he’s delayed. He can only say 4 words, and a bunch of animal sounds. However, he’s only considered mildly delayed in his speech, while other kids are saying 20 words or more.
He makes lots of gestures, makes different noises depending on what he wants, follows simple directions, knows sign language, and makes cognitive connections.
What can I do if I’m worried about my baby being developmentally delayed?
First, talk to your pediatrician. Considering they see hundreds of babies all the time, they will have a better indication of whether or not you should do something to help your baby along.
Second, every state has an early intervention program that you can get enrolled in. They usually do an initial assessment test (it was free in Utah) to see if your baby qualifies as being developmentally delayed. You might have to be referred by your pediatrician.
And lastly, you know your child best, so go with your gut feeling on what you should do. Little Man didn’t need a CAT scan or blood tests like his pediatrician suggested, he just needs some extra TLC learning certain skills.