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Is Your Baby on Track?

Check WebMD's timeline of childhood milestones and learn the signs of developmental delays.

If Your Child Seems Behind

If your child doesn't match up to the timeline, don't panic. "More often than not, these are minor problems," Bailey says. "Often there's not even a delay. Sometimes a parent just isn't giving the child opportunities. For example, a baby may not sit alone because he's always being held, rather than having time on the floor."

Another common explanation is premature birth. "Children who are premature may not have the same rate of muscle strength and development," Bailey says, and that can cause a delay in motor skills that usually resolves with time.

When children are behind in speech or comprehension, Zeltsman says the likely culprit is hearing loss due to recurrent ear infections. A less common cause is autism, particularly if the child also has difficulty interacting socially. Children who are exposed to more than one language also may have expressive speech delays, but usually catch up around age 2.

Other causes of significant delays include genetic disorders such as Down syndrome and developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy or mental retardation. In some cases, there is no known cause of the delay.

Early Intervention Is Key

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.

That needs to change, says Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, MD, of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "There are studies that are now reporting that children who have intervention early do better than children who do not have an intervention," she tells WebMD. Appropriate interventions include:

  • Physical therapy for gross motor delays
  • Occupational therapy for fine motor delays
  • Hearing evaluation and speech therapy for language delays
  • Special preschool programs for children with autism spectrum disorders and other delays

"Early intervention not only improves the child's functioning, but improves the relationship between parent and child and the parent's understanding of the condition," Yeargin-Allsopp says. "All in all, it appears that when an intervention is in place there are benefits to the child and society in the long term, such as better performance in school and less contact with the juvenile justice system."

Language delays are of particular concern to a child's academic potential. "If children have significant language delays at age 2, there's a chance of learning problems later on," Bailey says. So how early should you take action? "Even at 12 months, if you have a child that's really quiet, that's not babbling or doesn't respond to your voice, get an evaluation."

Free developmental assessments are available through state agencies, and federal law mandates free and appropriate interventions for all children with disabilities. To find resources in your state, visit the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.

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