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How To Recognize And Deal With Developmental Delays in Your Baby

Delays cause anxiety, inconvenience and 9th innings that start at last call. But imagine if you walked up to the ticket counter at your local airport, asked if your flight was on time and heard “I dunno. Guess we’ll find out when you miss your connection in Salt Lake.” You’d be incensed, right? Not just because you didn’t want to go to Salt Lake in the first freaking place, but also because of overwhelming uncertainty. Welcome to childhood development buddy. Go grab yourself a bloody mary.

When Salt Lake is crawling and the airplane is your kid, not knowing if there is a delay is excruciating. And not just because of the lack of customer service folks to receive your increasingly drunken firestorm of enraged tweets. Figuring out if your kid is experiencing developmental delays requires some astute observation. It’s time to figure it out.

Delay Or Slow To Develop?

Your kid’s development will not happen on a precise timeline. There is a broad spectrum of what’s “normal” for developmental milestones — for example, according to one longitudinal study, kids with no delays can start walking anytime between 8.5 months and 20 months.

Beyond that, your kid can be way ahead of the curve on one development and behind it on another. They may be late to roll over, but early to crawl. They may skip crawling altogether and go straight to cruising. They may be a freakishly quiet baby, only to erupt with language when least expected.

There is a distinct difference in a child being slow to develop, a child having developmental delays and a child being affected by a severe disability.

Typical But Slow

The development of cognition, social and emotional skills and physical coordination has everything to do with your kid building their nervous system. So conditions exist where you’d expect your kid to be a bit behind. That’s particularly true if your kid decided to crash their birthday party earlier than expected.

child next to dresser
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If your kid was a month early, you should expect them to be about a month slower arriving at the big developmental milestones. That said, they’ll probably be caught up by the time they’re hitting school. So pack those worries away.

It’s also important to note that if your kid seems to be behind in just one area, such as physical coordination, it’s unlikely to be related more profound issues like nervous system damage. They may just be infant hipsters who think rolling over is super overrated.

Truly Delayed

A kid experiencing delays in more than one area may have true developmental delays. So you should be more concerned if your 3-month old isn’t rolling over and fails to look at you or self soothe. Multiple delays could be linked to more serious issues with the nervous system.

The bigger problem is that there are a slate of things that can cause the same kinds of delays. Some of the more common issues are:

  • Nervous system damage linked to environmental toxins like lead
  • In-utero drug or alcohol exposure
  • Medical conditions like chronic ear infections, hearing loss or cataracts
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Genetic disorders
  • General poor health and nutrition

It’s important to pin down what the underlying issue is in order to access early intervention. In many cases, this invention is enough to help a kid with a true delay catch up their peers and start making fart jokes with the best of them.

That not only requires a good pediatrician, but also on-point observation from you and your partner.

General Developmental Milestones

Always remember that any developmental milestones could occur early or late. Right now, it might help to stay pretty high level, to make sure that your kid is hitting the bigger touch points. There are tons of online sources available for developmental timelines. Check out these one from understood.org, which is the most promising domain name ever.

In general, within the first 4 months your baby should be able to do the following:

  • Smile and engage with you through facial mimicry
  • Cry when you stop playing with them (unless you really suck at playing)
  • Hold their head upright and push their tummy off the floor (which you probably still struggle with, tubby)
  • Follow objects with their eyes
  • Babble and startle at loud noises
  • Hold and bring objects to their mouth (again, they might be ahead of you here, mr. chicken wing stain)

Your pediatrician will help you along as your kid grows, but be sure to bring any concerns to them if they should arise. You know your kid better than anyone. So you are the key to recognizing delays early.

Intervention

So what do you do if you think you kid happens to have a developmental delay? Your first course of action is to make sure you have thoroughly documented the delay and ruled out other causes. For instance, a kid learning two languages might be slower to speak than other children at first, but that’s completely normal.

Once you’ve collected as much observational data as possible, bring it to your pediatrician who can recommend if your kid needs specialized testing. That testing could come from an early intervention agency. If experts find a true delay, you could receive help at little-to-no cost in order to start catching up.

Finally, you can connect with other parents in your area who are experiencing similar realities. It can help you learn how to cope and give you the support you need to be an advocate for your kids progress, which you’ll continue to track.

Remember that many delays will turn out to be just that: delays. Your kid will likely get where they need to be by the time they enter school. And you’ll find yourself in Salt Lake City, relieved and wondering how the hell to get a good stiff drink before the next adventure.