9 important developmental milestones for your child with special needs
For any child, being able to meet developmental milestones is an important part of learning how to function independently. In the case of a child with special needs, this fact does not change; in fact, it plays an even greater role in what he will be able to learn, accomplish and achieve.
What exactly are the aspects that make these stages important? Having worked with children for over 23 years, I always get questions from parents worried about how their child will progress, and how different treatments are meant to help their child overcome these challenges.
The Development Process
It’s important to realize that before a child will be able to walk, he will have to go through the different steps of learning how to roll, sit, crawl, and stand. Each stage builds on the one before it, and the movements and muscle tone that he acquires along the way play an important role in his independent function.
Here is a brief guide on the movements which mark the different stages of development, and the reasons why they are important to your child’s progress.
1. Eye Movement
Eye movements play an integral role in brain development as they can tell a lot about vision and depth perception, even when a child is pre-verbal.
A child’s ability to follow faces and objects indicates signs about the level of their visual perception. Since sensorial experiences from the outside world will influence the wiring of his brain, a child’s visual experience is important for the development of his vision. This plays a key role in developing hand-eye coordination and head movement later on.
2. Head Control
As a child progresses, head control is the next area of the body to develop. A child is born with weak neck muscles at birth. To help a child develop his head control it is beneficial to place your child on his tummy, which will encourage him to lift his head. Eventually he will be able to move his head from side to side while on his stomach, and then learn to raise his head at a 45 degree angle and maintain it steadily.
Turning the head helps to stimulate the nervous system, which is crucial as it provides the foundation for later milestones such as sitting, crawling and walking. Good head control will also enable your child to swallow solid foods, thus improving your child’s health and digestion.
3. Grasping/Tactile Senses
The primary steps of grasping are the foundation for playing, reading, writing, drawing, feeding himself, self-care and the overall road to independence.
Touch is the most important of all senses as it is interconnected with emotional, social, and physical growth, cognitive potential and the immune functions. As a result, it is important to stimulate areas such as your child’s hands and feet with objects that have different textures. This will help him acclimate to new environments as he learns to maneuver himself in various spaces.
At about four months, many babies should be able to hold their head and chest up by supporting themselves with their elbows.
In order to help your child learn to support his upper body, you can place him on the floor or playpen to practice his mini-pushups. This will help your child gain and strengthen his neck, back and arm muscles which are needed when learning how to roll over.
Gaining the ability to roll will greatly depend on whether a child has met his previous milestones. At this stage, proper head control and the muscles used during a mini-pushup become crucial to learning how to roll his body.
To flip from his back to his tummy requires stronger neck and arm muscles, so this step will develop after he has first mastered turning from his stomach to his back. In the process, your child will develop his leg, neck, back and arm muscles, which are essential in helping a child to improve his breathing and subsequently achieve his next steps.
6. Sitting upright
While placing a young child in a sitting position can happen anytime, he will only be able to do it by himself once he has learned to roll over and hold up his head. This is important because a child’s ability to achieve this task will depend on whether he has developed the muscles in his neck, head and back.
As he moves on from propping himself up to sitting momentarily, he will develop the tone in his trunk which will allow him to be able to sit without support. This will then enable him to move on to movements such as crawling.
A child starts becoming mobile as his limbs and trunk become strong enough to support his body, which then enables him to move into a crawling position. With practice, a child learns to cross-crawl and other ways of moving around. Crawling is an important stage in development since it helps to strengthen the legs, arms and trunk enough for a child to stand and eventually walk.
As a prequel to walking, a child will begin using objects to pull himself into a standing position. With time, he will use furniture and other items to keep himself upright while moving around, and develop the tone in his limbs and trunk enough to stand independently.
Once a child achieves this step, he will soon be able to support his weight as he learns to bend his knees, squat and sit down from a standing position. This will prepare him for learning how to walk and coordinate the rest of his body.
Once a child has gone through and achieved each of these stages, he will be prepared to start learning how to walk. Most children learn to walk independently when they have developed the muscle tone in their bodies, limbs and trunks well enough to control, coordinate and adequately support each of their movements.
As a result, each of these movements play an important role in your child’s progress. It is important to go through them in order as each builds on the skills achieved in the previous stage.
Every Child Is Different
Every child is different and will develop at his pace; however, it is crucial that he does pass through these stages as a part of the treatment process. This is YOUR child’s development, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your best to help your child achieve his full potential.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to drop a line and we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.
Natan Gendelman is licensed as a physical therapist in Russia and Israel. After moving to Canada, he was certified as a kinesiologist and osteopathy manual practitioner. Natan has more than 20 years of experience providing rehabilitation and treatment for conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, pediatric stroke and acquired brain injury. He is the founder and director of Health in Motion Rehabilitation, a Toronto-based clinic whose main objective is to teach their patients the independence necessary for success in their daily lives.