What Every Parent Should Know About Developmental Delays

You have a new baby in your life. But how will you know if your child is developing normally? An expert from the Autism Alliance of Michigan offers some insight.

Young babies smile, coo, babble and cry when they are hungry or tired. Yes, these are typical baby behaviors, but they’re also so much more. “They’re actually developmental milestones which are used as a guide to mark appropriate development in a growing child,” says Jill Maston, MSN, RN, Clinical Specialist and Navigator Manager at the Autism Alliance of Michigan.

Sometimes, however, children experience a developmental delay. “This means a child is behind, or not meeting developmental milestones based on their age,” says Maston. “But it’s important to remember developmental milestones are guidelines. One milestone might be a month off, but doesn’t mean the child has a developmental delay.”

From diapers to disrupted sleep, everything is new when you have a new baby. It’s not always easy to know if your child is meeting their developmental milestones, and it may not even be at the top of your mind.

Developmental delays are more common than you might think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 6 children have a developmental delay, which is why well-child visits with your primary care provider are so important. These visits enable your health care provider to closely monitor your child’s growth and development from birth. Some of the classic milestones they’re looking for are smiling, babbling, rolling over, saying a first word, and crawling and walking.

Developmental delays and autism

“Many children with autism present with developmental delays especially in the areas of communication and social interaction,” Maston continues, “but developmental delays do not always lead to a diagnosis of autism.”

Common signs of autism include minimal eye contact, not responding to name, high sensitivity to certain sounds and textures, unusual or limited play skills and repetitive movements and behaviors. A child with autism may not share sounds or facial expressions and may not smile; they may also not babble by 12 months or speak any words by 16 months.

Red flags

The more knowledgeable you are about developmental milestones and red flags, the more equipped you are to identify developmental concerns in your child.

By building awareness of typical development, you’re more likely to recognize if something doesn’t seem quite right. If you do sense a problem with your child, there are many resources available to you, and by acting quickly, you can begin to address concerns early. “Early identification is key to improving outcomes for children with developmental delays,” says Maston.

Next steps

Maston encourages parents to schedule an appointment with their health care provider to discuss concerns they have about their child’s development.

Parents should also inquire about early intervention services available through their local school district. For children 0-3 years of age, parents can contact Early On Michigan at 800-Early On (800-327-5966). For children over three years of age, parents should contact their local school district directly to ask about these services.

Another helpful resource is the “Watch Me Grow” virtual training program offered through Autism Alliance of Michigan that helps parents, caregivers, early educators, daycare and foster care providers recognize developmental milestones and red flags.

This free program, which is funded through the generosity of the Carls Foundation, will be offered this spring and summer.

Register online at Watch Me Grow — Autism Alliance of Michigan.

Additionally, if you are concerned about your child’s development, The Autism Alliance of Michigan’s “Navigator Program” provides free professional consultation for parents concerned with their child’s development. For questions or additional information contact an AAoM Navigator at navigator@aaomi.org or 877-463-2266.

Learn more about the Autism Alliance of Michigan at autismallianceofmichigan.org.

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