Checklist for Toddler Motor Skill Delays

How to know if your toddler's skills are delayed

Baby boy sitting on a beach, playing with pebbles

We live in a world that likes to measure success in charts and scores. Throughout your child's life, there will plenty of opportunities to see if he's on target, above average or slipping behind. In general, the toddler years are not a time to worry too much about comparing your child to others. While there are milestones you might expect your child to reach in his second and third years, there is a wide range of "normal" for this stage so don't be overly concerned if a friend's toddler walks months before your child or if the tall girl in his daycare has mastered the monkey bars while your little one struggles up the slide steps. Many factors affect how quickly and how well a child's motor skills develop.

In general, as long as your child is gaining strength and dexterity consistent, you probably don't need to be concerned.

That is the general rule. However, some children's development does happen at a pace that may be slower than that wide range of normal. Unless significant disabilities are present, this variation is usually just considered a delay. Thus, even toddlers who seem months behind their peers will eventually catch up and be on target as they mature. 

If you've noticed that your child seems developmentally delayed and is progressing at a slower pace than other toddlers, you should speak to your pediatrician at the next check. Depending on the type of delays you have noticed, your pediatrician may want to evaluate your toddler and consider whether she should begin early intervention services to help her improve specific motor skills.

Be sure to give specific examples of how you have noticed that your little one's gross motor or fine motor skills are delayed.

Here is a basic checklist to keep in mind before your doctor's appointment.

Age 12 to 18 months

  • Does not crawl or stand
  • Will not walk even with support
  • Not interested in moving about room or home exploring what’s “new” or interesting
  • Favors a specific hand or leg, using it more than the other
  • Seems to have stiff arms or legs seem stiff 
  • Unable to hold even a light object like a sippy cup
  • Has trouble biting or chewing food

Age 18 to 24 months

  • Does not walk independently
  • Is unusually sensitive to sounds and motions
  • Drools often
  • Has trouble swallowing
  • Not able to scribble with a crayon

Age 24 months

  • Walks on tip-toes regularly
  • Does not walk heel to toe
  • Cannot push wheeled toys 
  • Has trouble pulling self up
  • Starts to regress and stop using motor skills that were mastered such as waving or coloring

Age 3 years

  • Loses balance when walking easily
  • Cannot throw a ball 
  • Cannot jump 
  • Falls or loses balance when running

Treatment for motor skill delays

Once you alert your pediatrician to your concerns about motor skill delays, he can assess whether or not your child needs services.

Often, toddlers whose physical skills are delayed will begin to show improvement with occupational therapy or physical therapy.

If your doctor identifies a severe complication such as cerebral palsy, your child may need to begin more intense and long-term care. Thankfully, there are many options for children with serious motor delays that you can discuss with your physician.

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