Childhood Development and Milestones - When to Advocate for Your Child
Updated: Nov 15, 2022
Developmental milestones are age-based markers that help keep track of a child’s growth in different areas of the brain and body.
Healthcare providers use these milestones as objective measurements in the areas of motor, cognition, language, and socio-emotional development.
As a caregiver, having a general understanding of typical childhood development not only allows you to ensure your child is thriving but also allows for the early detection of potential developmental disabilities.
Research has shown that approximately one in every six children ages 3-17 had developmental disabilities between 2014 and 2018 in the United States.
While these statistics may be a little jarring - remember - our aim is never to scare you, but to empower you to trust your instincts and advocate for your child based on your knowledge of childhood development.
You are your child’s best advocate
Living in the digital age where content is abundant and readily available at your fingertips, your inner voice can be easily drowned out. It is also easy to compare your child to others, feeling like they’re not doing enough for their age.
You know your child better than anyone, good or bad. That means you have the instinct to know when they are just fine or something is a little off. Trust that voice!
Why is it important to be aware of general milestones?
The growth of a child’s brain from ages 0-3 is at its fastest - this is the most important time to ensure your child develops the best foundation for their well-being long term.
Should a developmental disability be discovered, your healthcare team can begin to provide the necessary resources to lay that foundation down.
Your awareness will lead to improved physical, mental, and emotional health for your child and the family unit as a whole.
Optimal child development
Having general knowledge of developmental milestones allows you as the parent to ensure your child is on the right track. This will also improve communication and collaboration between you and your child’s pediatrician at well-visit appointments.
Establishing your child’s baseline
While milestones are based on specific timeframes, it’s important to note that for some children, being a bit ahead or behind the curve can actually be normal for them. Look at the big picture - is your child progressing toward and meeting all of their milestones overall?
Early detection is beneficial to taking action as needed
While it’s not always easy to face a potential condition or diagnosis, communicating any concerns to your healthcare team as early as possible will allow for better outcomes in the end.
Putting plans in place to address signs or symptoms you’ve noticed helps to reduce the risk of long-term impacts and further delay in development. For example, being referred to a specialist, beginning a home exercise program, or starting therapy services are all initial steps in the process of addressing your concerns.
Taking early action also decreases the need for special care in the future. As mentioned above, of the one in six children with developmental disabilities in the United States, “5.7% had limited ability to move or play, 4.7% needed help with personal care, 4.6% needed special equipment, and 2.4% received home health care, compared with ≤1% for each of these measures among children without DDs (Cogswell, ME et. al, 453).”
Allows decisions to be made in your child’s best interest
Being aware of general milestones allows the best action plan to be put in place specifically for your child’s needs. Whether that includes providing education to daycare staff, coordination of care between your therapist and pediatrician, or creating an individualized education plan for school, the overall goal is to allow your child to thrive in all aspects of their daily living.
Empowers YOU as a caregiver
At the end of the day, no one knows your child better than you. Having the knowledge of what is appropriate in terms of childhood development allows you to advocate for your child to the best of your ability.
Developmental milestones by month
The following list is intended to give you a general breakdown of age-related childhood milestones. While not an exhaustive list, the information serves as a quick overview of what to look for from ages 0 through 5.
(Don’t worry - we have linked a comprehensive checklist at the end of this article for more guidance!)
Holds up head when in tummy time position
Moves arms and legs
Holds head up when being held
Holds toys in hand
Brings hands to mouth
Swings arm at toys
Opens and closes hands
Props up on elbows and forearms when lying on stomach
Turns head toward your voice
Rolling belly to back
Props up on hands with arms straight when lying on stomach
Supports self by leaning on hands in sitting
Laughing and babbling
Recognizes familiar faces
Reaches for toys and puts objects in mouth as a form of exploration
Reaches sitting position independently
Sits upright independently
Shy, clingy around strangers
Reacts to their name
Rakes food toward self using fingers
Looks for you as well as objects when out of sight
Several facial expressions
Pulls to stand
Cruises along furniture
May stand momentarily or walk unsupported
Uses pincer grasp
Responds to “no”
Says “mama” and “dada”
Takes steps without help
Creeps up stairs
Transitions to standing without support
Uses items correctly (i.e. phone, cup, brush)
Follows simple commands
Looks at familiar objects when named
Builds tower of 2 blocks
Climbs on and off a chair
Drinks from a cup without lid, spills at times
Says 3+ words not including “mama” and “dada”
Helps get dressed
Tries to use a spoon
Copies you doing a chore like sweeping
Kicks a ball
Goes up and down stairs one step at a time
Eats with a spoon
Puts two to three words together
Uses new gestures, i.e. blowing kiss, nodding yes
Notices when others are upset or sad
Jumps up and down with both feet
Jumps down from higher surfaces
Stacks 9-10 blocks
Says 50+ words
Follows 2-step directions
Plays next to and/or with other children
Improved hand-finger coordination i.e. stringing large beads, holding crayon with fingers
Copies a circle
Talks in conversation
Catches large ball most of time
Serves self food and drink with supervision
Draws a person with 3+ body parts
Plays other characters in pretend (i.e. superhero, animal, etc)
Sentences of 4+ words
Hops on 1 foot
Buttons some buttons
Completes simple chores
Counts to 10
Recognizes some letters and numbers
When to seek therapy
If you feel your child is not meeting most of the milestones listed above, it is your right as a caregiver to request an assessment.
Start with calling your pediatrician to schedule an appointment based on your concerns. Prepare for your visit by writing down your recent observations and having questions ready to ask. You can also include a list of medications, family history, and what milestones have been reached to date.
I saw my doctor but don’t feel heard - now what?
Once you’ve consulted with your child’s pediatrician, you may or may not feel satisfied with their recommendations.
All too often caregivers feel that their concerns have been dismissed as needless worries, “first-time mom anxiety” or filed into the “let’s wait and see” category - but the nagging feeling in your gut says otherwise.
As we work to empower you as your child’s advocate, we strive to provide you with the knowledge needed to make the best decisions for your child. This includes knowing how to obtain a referral when you feel it is indicated, but perhaps the pediatrician disagrees.
Check with your insurance company to see if you are able to schedule an appointment with a specialist without a physician referral. Click for a list of insurance we accept
You are able to contact ABIL-OT directly to schedule an appointment with one of our providers based on your concerns. CONTACT US
In the meantime…
Continue to engage/interact with your child
Continue to observe and record your child’s behaviors related to the milestone that you feel is currently delayed
Trust your instincts as the person that knows your child best
Remember that there are a number of resources and providers available to your family. If one does not meet your needs, provide answers, or services to your standards, it is your right to seek a new provider.
Questions or concerns? CONTACT US today to see how we can help.
Milestone checklist newborn through age 5: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/FULL-LIST-CDC_LTSAE-Checklists2021_Eng_FNL2_508.pdf
Great resource for families that serves to support all babies and toddlers for a strong start in life:
1. Cogswell ME, Coil E, Tian LH, Tinker SC, Ryerson AB, Maenner MJ, Rice CE, Peacock G. Health Needs and Use of Services Among Children with Developmental Disabilities—United States, 2014–2018. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2022; 71(12):453–458.