My baby walked early, but isn’t talking. Do milestones matter? AHN Pediatrics has the answer.

My son is 18 months old and isn’t talking yet, just one or two words at a time. Will he catch up in time or could this be a problem?

Watching your child grow is one of the delights of parenting. We compare their progress to others when our babies develop teeth, lose teeth, and take those first steps.

When toddlers go to preschool, differences become even more apparent as one child climbs to the top of the slide and another prefers to sit and watch.

It’s natural to worry if your kid is hitting all the right milestones. In fact, researchers at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that 23% of parents surveyed believe their child has not reached their normal developmental milestones on time.*

Normal development varies widely

In February 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reissued its milestone tracker, listing the ages at which 75% of all children can do certain tasks as they play, learn, speak, and move.

“Many children are able to catch up to their peers with early intervention,” said Dr. Brook McHugh of AHN Pediatrics. “The budding marathon runner may not be as good at reading. The child who tells long stories may not be able to button a shirt. They all develop at their own pace. And remember, when comparing a room full of 3- and 4-year-olds, don’t confuse being six months younger with a delay.”

“It’s always appropriate to discuss development with your pediatrician. We also look at social and emotional growth,” Dr. McHugh added. “Such as sharing with friends and empathizing with others around them.”

Mom and lovely baby playing slide in playground joyfully.

Bring up your concerns

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be professionally screened for general development at 9, 18, and 30 months, and for autism at 18 and 24 months or whenever a parent or provider asks for it.

Talk to your pediatrician if you feel your child’s development is too slow or off course, especially if they’ve lost skills they once had. Take careful notes of the milestones they are hitting and missing, as clearly as you can. Having a list of specific concerns helps your doctor examine your child.

Children with developmental delays, including early signs of autism, can benefit greatly from early intervention services and therapies. So don’t delay meeting with your pediatrician. While free, government-subsidized programs end at age 3. Kids who need help can seamlessly transition to services for 3- to 5-year-olds, funded by Pennsylvania’s public education system.

“Ask for a referral to a specialist who can evaluate your child,” said Dr. McHugh. “You know your child better than anyone, so don’t be put off. Find a physician who will take your concerns seriously.”

You can also call Pennsylvania’s early intervention program at 1-800-692-7288 and ask that your child be evaluated.

Teach the behaviors you want to see

Parents are a baby’s first teachers. You can help your child develop by encouraging behaviors you want to see, like putting away toys, or helping a younger sibling.

“You can stimulate pretend play by joining in and promote compassion by helping them recognize emotions in others,” said Dr. McHugh.

 Every child is different, so check with AHN Pediatrics or your child’s doctor for specific advice.

* Mott Poll Reports, Milestones: How parents understand child development, June 28, 2021. Volume 38, Issue 5.

This article is a paid content partnership with Allegheny Health Network.