Whether you're a first-time mom or a parenting pro, there's no doubt that you share your concerns about your child's growth and development with a host of other mothers. You may wonder, "Is my child developing normally? Is he crying too much? Is he too clingy? Shouldn't he be able to pull himself up, or walk, or talk by now?" Later, when he heads to school, you'll want make sure that his cognitive and emotional growth are on track for his age group -- concerns that, as he grows, will morph into anxiety about his academic abilities and social skills. If you want to make sure that your child is meeting developmental milestones, you can find a variety of resources online and, of course, in your pediatrician's office.
Zero to Three
The earlier you're able to spot your child's delays in development, the earlier you'll be able to intervene and the better equipped he'll be to overcome them. According to Kristin Hannibal, M.D., clinical director of the Child Development Unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the resources available from the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families on the Zero to Three website can help parents determine if their babies and toddlers are developing normally. "This organization has a very comprehensive website with parent and provider resources," she explains. "They have a large section on behavior and development that can aid families in determining if there is a concern about their child's development." In addition, Dr. Hannibal points out that the site offers downloadable resources such as checklists, screens, handouts and even slide presentations to help parents track their child's progress. She specifically recommends the parent handouts in the "Early Development" portion of the website. "They are easy to read and provide parents with ideas for developmentally appropriate activities to promote healthy development," she says.
For moms whose medical knowledge is limited to the dialogue on "Grey's Anatomy," trying to understand the jargon present on some medical websites can be quite overwhelming. Thankfully, the American Academy of Pediatrics founded HealthyChildren.org, an online resource specifically designed for parents and caregivers. "HealthyChildren.org is their online resource for families with pediatric questions ranging from growth and development to common childhood illness," says Dr. Hannibal. The site not only features easy-to-read-and-understand references to age-specific developmental milestones, but also includes articles on topics that are of interest to parents, such as "How Do Babies Learn?" and "Bedtime Troubles."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
If you're like many people, you may think that the CDC's primary concerns are tracking the spread of infections diseases and making sure you wash your hands after using a public restroom. What you might not know is that the CDC's website, cdc.gov, features a wealth of information that can help you assess your child's growth. "The CDC and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities has several web pages devoted to normal child development and even has instructions on what to do if a parent is concerned about their child," explains Dr. Hannibal. "There are sample questions for parents to ask their providers, samples of validated developmental screens similar to what may be found in some doctor's offices, and developmental checklists." For instance, Dr. Hannibal points to the CDC's "Learn the Signs. Act Early" campaign, which provides a wide variety of educational materials to parents, including steps you can take to secure a free developmental evaluation for your child.
While these online resources are valuable educational tools, there is no substitute for the in-person assessments provided by your child's pediatrician. The AAP recommends that children receive routine developmental screenings at age 9 months, 18 months, 24 months, and 30 months, and your child's pediatrician should ask you questions about your child's developmental milestones at each of these visits. Toddlers should also be screened for autism at 18 and 24 months. "Pediatricians are trained to listen to the concerns of their parents, screen when there are concerns and make referrals for a secondary evaluation if the screens are positive," states Dr. Hannibal. "I would encourage parents to bring up any questions or concerns with their pediatric provider. It is then the provider's responsibility to determine if this really is a valid concern that warrants further testing."