If you gathered together a roomful of new parents, chances are they would exhibit one common concern no matter their other diversities. Among the top questions of parents of children under the age of five is, “is my child developing properly?”
While a nearly universal concern for moms and dads, most parents have little reason to worry. According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Health Interview Survey, fewer than 3.4 percent of children are classified as having a developmental delay, with the vast majority of children developing in a completely typical fashion.
Typical, however, doesn’t necessarily mean by-the-book, or the same as a best friend’s baby, or the toddler down the street. The process of child development is as individual as the child itself. Pediatric specialist, Dr. Shari Nethersole explains, “Development in young children is extremely variable. Yes, there are “norms” for when children should reach a particular milestone, but there is quite a range around all of those norms.”
For example, while most children begin walking around 12-months of age, some may start as early as nine months, or as late as 15, and still fall within the typical developmental guidelines.
Dr. Nethersole adds, “Achieving these developmental milestones earlier in the range does not in any way indicate that a child is smarter, and achieving them later does not mean that the child is delayed. Each child will develop at his or her own pace, and while it is important to encourage and stimulate children as they try to master each developmental skill, I would not place too much importance on trying to achieve them earlier than other children.”
But what if you suspect a problem? Trust your instincts. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else, and are therefore more likely to notice something out of the ordinary.
Certain red flags are absolute indicators that a child’s development should be evaluated. If your child doesn’t attempt to communicate on an age appropriate level—smiles, facial expressions, and babbling for infants, or words and meaningful phrases for children over 24 months—or is having difficulty meeting motor milestones such as walking, running or jumping, a developmental evaluation is in order.
If you have concerns, don’t wait to bring it to your pediatrician’s attention. In the event of developmental delay, early intervention is your child’s best friend and can help them get back on track towards healthy development through the use of physical, occupational, and speech therapies.
Diane Paul-Brown, director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology for the American Speech-Hearing Language Association, remarks,” If you think something’s wrong, don’t assume your child will outgrow it. If you’re at all concerned, talk to a professional.”