Guidelines for normal child development are not rules, but rather guides that parents and healthcare providers can use to determine whether children are meeting certain milestones of normal development. Development varies from child to child and happens on a continuum.
Children who do not meet certain guidelines may have a developmental delay or disorder. Some delays may be a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), so knowing what the warning signs are can help parents to secure early screening, diagnosis, and treatment, if warranted.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are warning signs or “red flags” that may signal a developmental delay for children aged 18 months to 24 months.
Normally developing children walk by age 18 months, and after they have walked for several months, will have developed a heel-toe walking pattern. Children who do not walk in this way or walk only on their toes may have a developmental delay.
Language development takes off during this age range. At 18 to 24 months, toddlers use simple phrases and move on to two and four word sentences. Following simple instructions, repeating overheard words, and pointing to objects when named for them are other milestones. Children who are not using two-word sentences by age two or otherwise fail to meet these language milestones may have a developmental delay.
By age two, normally developing children will have made major strides in movement, fine motor, language, cognitive, and emotional and social development. Two year-olds who are developing normally will be able to push a wheeled toy, run, climb up and down stairs, build towers, scribble with a pen or pencil, and play “make believe” games.
By age two, normally developing children are able to interact with other children and to play alongside them with a sense of “mine” and “yours” and of taking turns. A sense of increasing independence is a hallmark of normal development for two year-olds. Again, not meeting these milestones may be indicative of a developmental delay or disorder.
In this age range, or at any point during your young child’s development, exhibiting a dramatic loss of skills your child once had is also cause for alarm.
Parents should remember that development doesn’t take place overnight and that the range of what is considered normal is a continuum. Some variations in development are completely normal. One delay in meeting a deadline does not a disorder make, but any concerns are absolutely worth mentioning to your child’s healthcare provider.
A dramatic loss of skills (no longer being able to use words once used, or to perform physical tasks previously mastered) can be indicative of a developmental delay or disorder. If you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, seek the advice of his or her health care provider right away.