Keep an Eye Out for Physical Delays in Toddlers

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The group playdate had already started at the church. The room was full of toddlers crawling, walking, and running around to various play areas. The mother put her 18-month old son down on the floor and watched him crawl off to play with the other toddlers.

As she started talking with the other mothers and caregivers, the mother noticed that most of the toddlers her son’s age were walking. When she asked when the other children had started walking, most of the mothers replied that their children had started several months ago.

At that moment, the mother realized that her concerns about her son not walking yet had been right. However, she wondered what she needed to do next to get her son help.

Just like the mother above, parents play a key role in spotting physical delays in their infants and toddlers. They will see both obvious and subtle signs of delay before others will. The key is for parents to know what to look for as they watch over and care for their child.

There are two general types of physical delays parents will notice. One is a gross motor delay which means that children are having difficulty with large muscle activities like walking, hopping, and climbing stairs. The other delay is in fine motor skills where children are having difficulty with their small muscle activities. This means that they can struggle handling a spoon or grasping crayons with their fingers.

These two general types of physical delays are often expressed by parents to their pediatricians as more specific concerns. These can include concerns about children’s lack of growth, trouble keeping up with other children of the same age, and seeming to get tired very quickly. Other concerns focus on children being either very stiff and tight or weak and limp. All are valid concerns and should be pursued further.

The good news is that infant and toddler development varies. Children can often be late in developing certain physical skills and then later catch up to other children. However, other times being late in developing physical skills can be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Parents can get a better idea of what a physical developmental delay looks like by going to the interactive tool, Physical Developmental Delays: What to Look For (http://motordelay.aap.org/) which is sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The tool can provide parents resources to assess concerns about their children’s physical development.

Once parents suspect a physical delay in their child, they need to take action. A first step in addressing a possible delay is to see the child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician can let parents know if a specialist needs to be seen or if the delay is relatively normal for a child that age.

Another route parents can pursue is by contacting First Steps. First Steps is a state-wide early intervention system that provides free assessments and intervention services for children between the ages of birth to three years old. If parents suspect their child has a physical delay, they should set up a screening.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on March 18, 2016.

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