Milestones for All Kids

Developmental milestones provide an estimate of the age when most children will develop a certain skill (sitting, smiling, saying a first word, talking, crawling, walking, or putting a simple puzzle together) and should not be taken as an absolute measure of a child's accomplishments.

At the same time, developmental milestones are guidelines for child development and assist parents of a child with special needs in understanding what should be coming next. Developmental milestones are usually described in four categories: physical, social and emotional, communication, and cognitive.

Considerations for Children with Special Needs

In general, developmental milestones follow a sequence. Although a child with special needs may not be reaching the milestones at the same age as the baby next door, she is likely following the same order of development.

Sometimes, however, a disability prevents the child from completing a milestone. Perhaps the milestone is skipped or perhaps it represents the stopping point of development in a particular area.

Alert

It is important to practice your child's goals on a regular basis. Your child is more likely to progress in making eye contact in conversation, for example, if it is consistently practiced. Encourage eye contact at the beginning of a conversation after school, at the dinner table, and at bedtime. You will see progress toward the goal.

A child with Down syndrome may seem to skip the stage of baby talk and begin talking by clearly pronouncing words in isolation. A child who is paralyzed from the waist down will obviously not continue past the sitting stage and attempt to stand. While she may have the arm strength to pull her body up, she will not have the leg strength or control to stand up.

Developmental Milestones

The “typical” order of physical milestones includes two areas: fine motor (done with the hands) and gross motor (involving the torso and limbs). The following is a sequence of some of the gross motor milestones. Note: The following milestones are provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services Early Intervention website.

Gross Motor Milestones

  • Sit with help: 6 months old
  • Crawl: 9 months old
  • Pull to standing: 12 months old
  • Walk: 15 months old
  • Walk up stairs: 3 years old

These are a few of the basic milestones; there are many additional ones. Again, these are guidelines for the order of development in most children.

Fine motor milestones are outlined below.

Fine Motor Milestones

  • Take hold of an object: 4 months
  • Move an object from one hand to the other: 6 months
  • Pick things up with the thumb and one finger: 12 months
  • Turn the pages of a book: 2 years

Professionals watch more than the movement of babies and toddlers to evaluate their development; they also watch social and emotional milestones. These are especially critical when it is suspected that a child is autistic.

Social and Emotional Milestones

  • Smile when someone speaks to her: 3 months
  • Give affection: 12 months
  • Begin to play with other children: 4 years

Communication milestones are critical when evaluating a child's hearing, cognitive skills, or her speech and language. Language skills are more than just saying the speech sounds correctly, and include understanding directions and being able to put words and sentences together to express ideas.

Communication Milestones

  • Vocalize when someone speaks to her: 4 months
  • Say “mama” and “dada”: 9 months
  • Say two or three words: 12 months
  • Use two or three words together: 2 years

It is easy to become frustrated when development seems to come easily for other children. A child with a special need may have to work much harder and longer to develop skills, while others pick them up spontaneously.

Remember that the milestones do not represent small steps to your child. Rather, they are huge gaps that can require many small successes before they are fully accomplished.

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