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Spotting Developmental Delays in Your Child: Ages 3-5

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Speech and Language: What’s Normal

There’s no deadline for a child to start talking or using full sentences. But most kids reach speech and language milestones by a certain age. Let your child’s doctor know if he can’t do some of the following. Also, take note if your child loses skills he’s already learned.

By 3 years, kids usually:

  • Talk in short sentences, can identify body parts, and make words plural

By 4 years, kids usually:

  • Can tell a simple story and recall short nursery rhymes
  • Use sentences of about five words
  • Use "me" and "you" correctly

By 5 years, kids usually:

  • Can understand two-part commands with prepositions ("under" or "on")
  • Can give their first and last names
  • Can use plurals or past tense the right way
  • Ask questions like “Why?” or “Who?”
  • Talk about what they did that day

Motor Skill Delays

Some children can have trouble with movements that use a lot of muscles, such as playing ball, or with smaller movements, like coloring. Sometimes the problem isn’t with their strength, but with their coordination. You may notice that your child seems clumsier than other kids his age.

Possible causes. Most of the time, doctors can’t find a specific cause or diagnosis for delays in motor skills or coordination, but some children have medical issues that cause them or make them worse. They include:

  • Vision problems
  • A lack of muscle control, called ataxia
  • Trouble with how the brain coordinates and plans movements, called dyspraxia
  • Muscle diseases
  • Cerebral palsy

What you can do. For motor delays, your child's doctor may suggest that you encourage your little one to move and be active at home. He may also need:

  • Physical therapy to help him with movements that use a lot of muscle groups
  • Occupational therapy to improve small movement skills or coordination problems
  • Medication or other treatment for a muscle disease

Motor Skills: What’s Normal

Kids usually get stronger and more coordinated as they grow up. Let the doctor know if your child isn’t meeting some of the following milestones or seems to be losing any motor skills he’s already learned.

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