Recognizing delayed motor skills in your baby early on is important!

by Julie Snyder

baby reaching upThe newsletter might say your little one might be lifting up his arms to be picked up. Your baby is still signaling only by fussing. Should you worry? Probably not. Each milestone has a range considered normal. However, if you're worried, bring it up.

Recognizing developmental delay early on is extremely important. Since a child's brain development is centered around particular windows of opportunity, earlier treatment equals a more positive outcome. Since you have the ability to observe your child on a regular basis, parents are often the "front line defense team" in being able to label progress and express concerns.

According to Pediatric Physical Therapist, Jenna Zervas MSPT, 65 percent of health care providers feel inadequately trained in assessment of developmental status. Only 45 percent of parents thought they received adequate information from their provider. This is why it is all the more important to develop a good communication line with your child's health care provider.

Red flags for delayed motor development

Delayed motor milestones

3 months
• Not able to pick up head when on tummy
• Not able to make eye contact

6 months
• Not reaching for toys placed in front of him
• Not able to push up on elbows
• Not bearing weight on legs when standing

9 months
• Not able to roll
• Not able to sit up by herself (after placed in position
• Not able to commando crawl

12 months
• Not able to creep on all fours
• Not able to pull to standing


A young baby's movements and muscle strength should be symmetrical. A 6 or 9-month-old should not show preference for one side of the body (asymmetry). What happens on the left side of the body should be duplicated on the other side. Her head turns to the side and she takes on a fencing pose. When her head turns the other direction, the fencing stance will be a mirror image. At bath time or during a diaper change you can easily observe motions. When you move her arms and legs see if the left side and right sides behave the same. When she is startled, do both thumbs point out, demonstrating symmetry?


Is your baby like a rag doll with little to no resistance when a joint is moved. Does she have a lack of muscle tone and postural control? Infants with hypotonia seem floppy and feel like a "rag doll" does when held. A hypotonic baby will rest with her elbows and knees loosely extended. Babies with normal tone generally have flexed elbows and knees. Head control may be poor or absent; her head listing backward, forward or sideways.


Hypertonia is marked by an abnormal increase in muscle tension and reduced ability of muscles to stretch. The resistance increases with the speed of movement. Although many newborns enjoy a position similar to a little frog, you might suspect a problem if your baby continues to prefer a scrunched up position and his joints are moved with difficulty.


Some babies have weak neck or trunk muscles. The role of postural function is to resist the forces of gravity, to provide mechanical support during a movement and to maintain balance. If your baby scrunches her shoulders to help support her head, she may have poor muscle tone. She may not be able to reach for an object without losing her balance.

A developmental delay can be scary. But there is good news as well! When your baby is identified either at risk or diagnosed with delayed motor skills and treated early, the outlook is encouraging.

Source: Jenna Zervas MSPT, "Recognizing and Helping the Infant with Delayed Motor Skills," March 21, 2006, Parents as Teachers National Conference.