Developmental delays is one of the first signs of cerebral palsy. Find out how to ensure your child is on track with their development.

Understanding Normal Development

Every child progresses at a different pace. While some delays during early childhood will correct themselves as a child grows up, missing important milestones may indicate an underlying neurological or movement disorder.

A lack of physical development is one of the first signs that a child may have cerebral palsy.

If parents are concerned that their child isn’t crawling, walking or talking when they should, this may be a sign of something more serious. Parents should seek out the help of doctors and specialists who can monitor a child’s development and form a diagnosis.

Children’s developmental progress is separated into 4 main categories:

  • Physical growth
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Social interaction
  • Emotional growth

Some children may experience delays related to physical growth, while others take longer to interact socially or emotionally. All children are unique – however, knowing what is considered to be normal development will help parents recognize any issues and take action quickly.

Normal Stages of Development

“Normal stages of development” refers to a general pattern of physical, emotional, intellectual and social milestones that most children follow. These stages are determined based on the average progress of all children.

It’s important to note that developmental milestones are not all-encompassing. Some children will achieve a benchmark earlier or later than expected, but still be within the normal range. The best way to conclude if your child is on track with their development is by consulting with your pediatrician.

For Children Ages 1-3 Months

Normal development for this age range is defined when a child:

  • Still requires head support
  • Reacts to lights
  • Automatically clasps hands without letting go
  • Has jerky kicking while laying on back
  • Cries during hunger and discomfort
  • Begins smiling

For Children Ages 3-6 Months

Normal development for this age range is defined when a child:

  • Sits up with support
  • Holds head independently
  • Communicates through body language
  • Shows happiness and delight
  • Starts eating soft foods
  • Enjoys playing with people
  • Begins babbling and “baby talk”

For Children Ages 6-9 Months

Normal development for this age range is defined when a child:

  • Recognizes faces
  • Responds to own name
  • Sits unassisted
  • Can roll over
  • Begins mouthing objects
  • Passes objects from one hand to the other
  • Starts tying vowels together in communication

For Children Ages 9-12 Months

Normal development for this age range is defined when a child:

  • Stands with support
  • Starts crawling
  • Can use fingers independent of each other
  • Understands some gestures
  • Knows his or her name
  • Imitates parents
  • Displays emotion
  • Has preferred toys
  • Plays peek-a-boo
  • Is visually attentive

For Children Ages 12-18 Months

Normal development for this age range is defined when a child:

  • Begins walking alone
  • Can pick up small objects
  • Can use crayons and markers
  • Enjoys being read books
  • Develops vocabulary of up to 20 words
  • Can use eating utensils
  • Mimics sounds and actions
  • Responds to basic requests

For Children Ages 18 Months and Older

Normal development for this age range is defined when a child:

  • Plays with others
  • Can have temper tantrums
  • Shows affection
  • Begins running
  • Can walk up stairs
  • Throws balls
  • Improved vocabulary, says short sentences
  • Starts pretend play
  • Can hop with two feet together

Recognizing The Telltale Signs of Cerebral Palsy

Usually, parents and caregivers can detect delays in their child’s development by comparing their progress to the stages of normal development. If a child appears to be lagging in any areas of development, especially motor function, this may be a symptom of cerebral palsy.

Recognizing the signs of cerebral palsy can lead to an earlier diagnosis if a condition exists. Most children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy around 18 months of age.

The most distinguishing signs of cerebral palsy include:

  • The child doesn’t kick
  • Movement is unduly stiff or rigid
  • Movement is floppy or limp
  • Trouble moving eyes
  • Favoring movement on one side of body
  • Not smiling within three months of age
  • The child is unable to hold head up between three and six months
  • Not bringing hand to mouth after three months
  • Doesn’t begin rolling over or reaching for objects
  • Isn’t sensitive to sound or light
  • Delayed signs of communication
  • Can’t walk by 18 months
  • Doesn’t gain familiarity with people or things
  • Child has awkward or unusual muscle tone

Cases of mild cerebral palsy take the longest to diagnose because signs and symptoms don’t become apparent until the child gets a little older — usually during preschool years. While the ages from birth to three years require the most observation, parents should stay vigilant if they notice other children outpace their child’s development.

What to Do If Your Child Is Developing Slowly

Catching signs of delayed development can lead to an early CP diagnosis. Parents who suspect that their child has a developmental motor disorder should see a doctor as soon as possible.

The earlier CP is diagnosed, the faster treatment can begin — which increases the likelihood of improving the child’s long-term quality of life.

Parents should seek out a pediatrician who is:

  • Experienced in diagnosing cerebral palsy and other motor disorders
  • Willing to build a relationship with families
  • Empathetic and compassionate
  • Familiar with specialists in other fields

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children receive developmental screenings at 9, 18 and 24-30 months of age. If your child is showing signs of abnormal development, these screenings may become more frequent. Children who are screened for potential CP often see other specialists, such as a neurologist.

Diagnosing cerebral palsy can be a long and frustrating process for parents. Finding a pediatric specialist that you can trust is one of the first steps towards receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment method.

To learn more about the various signs of cerebral palsy, try downloading our free Cerebral Palsy Guide. This guide includes over 60 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.

Sources & Author Edited: October 4, 2016
  1. Understanding Cerebral Palsy: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Marion Stanton. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. London and Philadelphia. 2012.
  2. Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving 2nd ed. Freeman Miller, M.D. and Steven J. Bachrach, M.D. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. 2006.
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/facts.html
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-18mo.html
  5. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/1/405.full
  6. https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/normaldevelopment/
About the Writer
Kimberlee Bochek

Kimberlee is a writer and researcher who is passionate about helping children with disabilities enjoy a happy, healthy life. She works closely with our attorneys to create content that educates the families and caretakers of children with cerebral palsy.