Children amass many skills during the first few years of life, and their accumulating abilities allow them to perform complex social, cognitive, and physical tasks. Certain skills, such as walking and talking, generally appear around the same time in most children, and we can use these milestones to measure children’s development and identify those who are developing at a slower pace. While developmental milestones are categorized by the skill sets they involve, they also overlap, and a delay in one aspect of development can have a large impact a child’s abilities in other areas. A child with hearing loss may also lag behind in language development, for instance, while cognitive delays could affect a child’s ability to interact in social situations. By identifying delays early on, parents and physicians can most effectively help children improve their abilities and prevent further delays from occurring.
Developmental delays may be present when a child fails to meet milestones on time or loses skills they learned previously. Conditions like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and mental retardation may be the cause of the delay, and these health issues can form substantial barriers to a child’s ability to learn, form healthy relationships, and become independent. Developmental screenings are key to identifying these delays as early as possible and ensuring that children receive appropriate supports, which can include medical services, educational programs, and other resources designed to meet the child’s needs. These quick screenings can be conducted by a physician, nurse, teacher, or other qualified professional and often involve both an assessment of the child and a questionnaire for parents to fill out. If an initial screening shows that a child may be delayed in one or more areas of development, the child will receive a more in-depth evaluation that may lead to a diagnosis.
Children grow and mature at different speeds, and it’s important to remember that the age at which a child will achieve a specific skill varies. While a child who has not met a certain milestone may soon catch up, parents who have any questions or concerns should speak to their child’s pediatrician. Parents can also take steps on a daily basis to promote healthy development in their children. Important activities include playing with and reading to the child, ensuring that they eat a nutritious diet and sleep well, talking to them and encouraging dialogue, even if the child can only babble response, and providing them with a safe environment in which to explore. A child’s first few years will be a crucial period of growth and learning, and with a better understanding of the ways in which children develop during this time, parents can help them form the foundations for success and satisfaction in school and in life.
For more information about specific areas of child development see the following:
Gross Motor Development
Fine Motor Skills Development
Social and Emotional Development
Language and Speech Development
Vision and Hearing Development