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Know The Signs of Developmental Delays

Recognizing early signs of developmental delays and ensuring access to early intervention services right away will help your child thrive as they grow.

Your child's healthcare provider will help you determine if early intervention services might be needed. Be sure to ask for advice about unusual behavior, physical difficulties, or any other concerns.

Most parents get excited about certain milestones like when their child crawls or walks or says their first word. It is important to have an idea of when these developmental milestones should be reached. It might be helpful to take the free, online screening tool available at Make the First First Five Count and have the screening feedback with you to review with your child’s healthcare provider during your next appointment.

If your child misses a milestone, tell your child's healthcare provider — it might indicate a need for early intervention services.

IMPORTANT: If you suspect your child is missing developmental milestones, don't delay. Contact your child’s healthcare provider or Easterseals in your area immediately.

Here are signs to watch for that may indicate the need for essential services:

If your child...

  • Does not follow objects with his eyes by age 6 months
  • Is often unable to locate and pick up small objects that have been dropped
  • Frequently rubs his eyes or complains that eyes hurt; or has reddened, watering or encrusted eyelids
  • Holds head in a strained or awkward position (tilts head to either side or thrusts head forward or backward) when trying to focus on someone or something
  • Sometimes or always crosses one or both eyes
  • Fails to notice objects, people or animals around him when other children do

If your child...

  • Does not turn to face the source of strange sounds or your voice by four months, or if he sleeps through most noises
  • Rubs or pulls at his ears repeatedly; has frequent earaches or runny ears
  • Talks in a very loud or soft voice
  • Does not react when you call from another room
  • Turns the same ear toward a sound he wishes to hear

If your child...

  • Is not kicking legs and grabbing with hands by age 3 months
  • As an infant, arches back when lying on the back or being held
  • Always seems to favor using one hand over the other before age 2 years
  • Drags or favors one side

If you recognize any of these signs in your child, contact your doctor or a public health nurse immediately.

The following are common motor milestones. If your child is not able to do these things by the age suggested, it may indicate a problem that should be reported to your pediatrician:

Your child should...

  • Say "mama" and "dada" by the age of 1 
  • Say the names of a few objects and people by the age of 1 
  • Attempt nursery rhymes or short TV jingles by age 2  
  • Talk in short sentences by age 3
  • Be understood by people outside the family by age 3 

Your child should...

  • Try to put toys in his mouth by age 6 months
  • Play games such as peek-a-boo, patty cake and wave good-bye by age 1 year
  • Play group games such as hide-and-seek or tag with other children by age 4 years
  • Share and take turns by age 5 years

Your child should...

  • Understands 'no' by the age of 1
  • Plays with multiple toys at the same time by age 2 (like putting toy food on a toy plate)
  • Understand simple stories told or read by age 3 years
  • Give reasonable answers to simple questions such as, "What do you do when you are sleepy?" or "What do you do when you are hungry?" by age 4 years
  • Understand the meaning of the words "today," "tomorrow" and "yesterday" by age 5 years

Your child should...

  • Hold his head up when lying on tummy by age 2 months
  • Roll over by age 6 months
  • Sit up without help or support by age 9 months
  • Crawl on hands and knees by age 1 year
  • Walk by age 2 years
  • Walk down steps by age 3 years
  • Balance on one foot for a short time by age 4 years
  • Throw and catch a large ball bounced to him by age 5 years

Using his/her hands
Your child should...

  • Bat and swipe at toys by age 4 months
  • Open hands by age 2 months
  • Pass toys from one hand to the other by age 9 months
  • Bang toys together by age 11 months

Living skills
Your child should...

  • Drink from a cup without a lid at the age of 1
  • Help with getting dressed by age 3 years
  • Dress without supervision by age 5 years

If not, then please contact your doctor or a public health nurse immediately.

If you would like your child's development evaluated through your state's early intervention system, you can find the lead agency for your state through the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center. You can also contact an Easterseals in your area to learn more.

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