There are standard guidelines for development for children from ages 3 months to 5 years. While these guidelines are not hard and fast rules, and childhood development happens on a continuum, knowing what behaviors a child should exhibit and what constitutes normal development can help parents to determine if their child is developing normally or has a developmental delay. Delays in some developmental areas can be indicative 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 of developmental delay, broken down into 3-month, 7-month, and 1-year of age categories.
Some signs of a possible developmental delay at 3 months of age are a baby’s lack of response to loud noises, or failure to notice his or her hands by 2 months. Not following a moving object with his eyes by 2 or 3 months and not smiling at people by 3 months are also “red flags.” Three months is also the age at which normally developing babies should support their heads and grasp and hold objects. Other signs of normal development are reaching for toys and babbling by age 3 to 4 months.
Normally developing babies should also be able to move one or both eyes in all directions and only occasionally cross their eyes. Not trying to imitate sounds a parent or caretaker makes by age 4 months and not paying attention to – or seeming frightened of – new faces, as well as a dramatic loss of skills once mastered are all signs of a possible developmental delay at ages 3 to 4 months.
Seven months is the next age for which developmental guidelines are evaluated. Some warning signs of a developmental delay at this age include a baby who seems to have tight muscles or who is stiff, or one who seems floppy (his or her head may flop back when you pull baby to a sitting position). A baby who reaches with just one hand, refuses to cuddle, or shows no affection for his or her caregiver may have a delay. Lack of response to sounds or a lack of enjoyment for being around people may be indicative of a delay, as may be sensitivity to light or eye drainage or tearing that is persistent.
Other delays include not laughing or squealing by 6 months, not actively reaching for objects by 6 to 7 months, not sitting with help by 6 months, and not smiling or rolling over by 5 months. Babies who seem impossible to comfort at night after 5 months or who do not bear weight on their legs by 7 months may also have a delay. No interest in “peek-a-boo” games or failure to babble by 8 months may also be signs of developmental delays. Again, a lack dramatic loss of skills once had at this age may be a warning sign of a delay or disorder.
At one year, normally developing babies should crawl and stand when supported. They should also search for objects that you hide while he or she is watching, and use gestures such as waving. Babies at this age who are developing normally should also be able to use single words like “dada” or “mama” and point to pictures or objects. At one year, any significant loss of previously mastered skills is again a warning sign that there may be a delay or disorder.
Knowing the warning signs of a developmental delay is important when it comes to seeing further screening. If you feel your child has any delays, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. He or she can order further screening and diagnosis if appropriate.
Addendum to Possible Warning Signs of Developmental Delay – Birth to 12 Months
Although not all delays are indicative of a developmental delay, if your child exhibits any of the following “red flags” for developmental delay at his or her first birthday, consult your pediatrician right away:
- Child does not crawl
- Child cannot stand when supported
- Child says no single words such as “Mama” or “Dada”
- Child does not learn to use gestures like shaking head or waving
- Child does not search for object hidden while he or she watches