What are developmental milestones?
Developmental milestones are particular skills that most babies and children learn by a certain age. There are many milestones, but most of them can be categorized into 4 components:
- Physical skills (rolling, sitting up, crawling, walking).
- Social/emotional skills (smiling, laughing, recognizing familiar faces)
- Language/Communication skills (making sounds, saying words)
- Cognitive skills (reaching for toys, opening a lid, mimicking actions like putting glasses on).
Children develop at their own pace and there’s no exact time that they have to hit a specific milestone. However, all milestones have an age range where we expect most children to meet them. Rolling, for example, is expected to be learned by 4-6 months of age. Some babies learn to roll early at 4 months and some take a little longer to do so. If your child was born premature, it’s important to keep in mind that they might hit their milestones a little later compared to other children.
Why are developmental milestones important?
Developmental milestones are important because they are like a window into how a child is developing neurologically and physically.
Babies progressively reach milestones as their brains develop. Brains initially develop through crude and involuntary movements (i.e. primitive reflexes) and through babies experiencing the world around them using the five senses. When a child is having significant delays in their milestones, this can mean that there’s a developmental issue at play. For example, when a child has hearing problems there’s a good chance of catching it early if a parent notices that they haven’t met certain developmental milestones, such as an absent startle reflex or if they don’t respond to the sound of their name being called. Keeping a close eye on your child’s development from the start can help you detect issues and act early.
Other scenarios to look out for is when your child meets a milestone, but perhaps sub-optimally. For example, you might notice your baby has begun to crawl, but instead of a cross-crawl pattern you observe that one of baby’s legs is dragging behind. Maybe, instead, you notice that baby is scooting or doing an army crawl where their belly is against the ground and they’re more so dragging their body across a room than actually crawling. Recognizing when developmental milestones are being met improperly is crucial because it could indicate an imbalance in your child’s muscle tone, a structural issue, or an underlying neurological issue. Furthermore, the causes behind these indications can range from minor issues to more serious conditions.
In particular, crawling as a milestone is huge for a child’s development because this is the first milestone that promotes proper communication between both hemispheres of our brain. This cross-brain communication is subtly at-work from that point on as a child learns to walk, develops hand-eye coordination, and play time skills. Ensuring that this communication is happening from the start plays a huge role towards giving children every opportunity and advantage to thrive later down the road.
As one can imagine, in the case of a child’s development, early detection and intervention is key.
What happens if my child isn’t hitting developmental milestones?
As the name implies, if your child has significant delays with developmental milestones, it can mean that there’s a delay in their physical or neurological development. The next step would be to have your child screened by a healthcare provider to further assess your concerns and to determine whether next steps should be taken. In many cases, whether your child’s developmental delay is minor or if they have more going on, chiropractic can have a meaningful role in supporting child development.
What is chiropractic’s role when it comes to developmental milestones?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the early detection of developmental delays dropped significantly during the recent pandemic. This is likely because the restrictions put in place at the time and the fear that parents felt for their children’s safety made it hard for parents to take their young ones to pediatricians. On top of that, lockdowns, social distancing, and mask wearing likely challenged the social, cognitive, and physical development of many children. The first role that chiropractic has to play when it comes to a child’s developmental milestones is to be able to identify children who are showing delays and to refer parents to the proper channels for further assessment.
The most important role that chiropractic has to play when it comes to developmental milestones fall at the structural and neurologic level. The goal of chiropractic care is to allow the nervous system to function optimally through the removal of nerve interference. The communication in a child’s nervous system is at risk since birth, where there’s hours of contractions upon baby or significant pulling involved. Even past that, as a baby learns to crawl and walk, falls and bumps become inevitable as well. These can create gradual microtraumas and shifts in the bones that surround our nerves. When these nerves have pressure on them, it can decrease the speed and ability of our body to receive information, process it, and have our body respond accordingly. If our nervous system is working at a suboptimal capacity, the capacity to hit milestones can become affected as well.
A third way that our office supports kids with hitting their milestones is by offering parents tips, tricks and games that help kids reach specific milestones. That can range from play activities that strengthen certain muscles for babies and practiced movements that teach babies how to roll or crawl to primitive reflex exercises to allow for fine motor skills and much, much more.
Developmental milestones are particular skills that most babies and children learn by a certain age. When a child is having significant delays in their milestones, this can mean that there’s a developmental issue at play and, in the case of a child’s development, early detection and intervention is key. Furthermore, chiropractic has a role to play in developmental milestones! This role consists of helping to identify and refer children with delays, supporting the structural, neurological and physical development of children through nerve interference, and offering concerned parents the necessary tools to stimulate their children and help them hit their milestones.