The Important Milestones in Childhood Sensory Development and How to Spot Delays

Developmental disabilities in children are easier to manage or overcome when you detect them early and seek therapeutic treatments.

During the first months and years of a child’s life, they gradually gain the motor and sensory skills they will need to learn and function as they grow older. Certain gross motor skills, social behaviors, and learning habits usually form by specific ages, marking important developmental milestones in children. If your child is not meeting these developmental milestones on time, he or she may have an intellectual and developmental delay or disability.

Early detection and intervention makes it easier to avoid the social, psychological, and physical challenges that children with disabilities may face. If your child has missed any of these important childhood developmental milestones, they may benefit from physical therapy along with other forms of habilitation therapy using specific sensory activities for children with development disabilities.

Learning to Communicate: 0-6 Months

Sensory delays may affect your child’s ability to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally. One of the first developmental milestones in children is the attempt to communicate through crying, cooing, and other vocalizations. These skills should develop within the first six months of a child’s life. By three months, most children also recognize the scent of their mother’s milk and respond to familiar sounds and voices.

If your baby does not pick up on common communication cues or make an effort to express desires, focus on social rewards instead of toys to help develop sensory recognition.

Accepting Loud Noises: 3-6 Months

Between the ages of three and six months, children usually begin to accept loud noises without getting scared or upset. They may also self-calm with gentle sounds. If your child continues to resist unfamiliar noises after reaching this age, gradually desensitize him or her by introducing new sounds and volumes at a slow pace in a controlled, familiar environment.

Try not to react negatively to unexpected noises, either. Create positive associations between sounds instead. Do some research about community-based disability services programs for children with developmental disabilities to learn more about what can cause sensitivity to loud and unfamiliar sounds.

Imitating Gestures and Facial Expressions: 9 Months to 3 Years

Failure to mimic others is one of the most common early signs of autism. If your child does not begin to mirror your facial expressions and gestures by the age of nine months, they may struggle to relate to other children when they reach age four or five. Between ages one and two, they should also begin to engage in playtime activities, respond when you point to objects, and imitate sounds you make. Detection and intervention of these types of developmental delays before age three is absolutely crucial, as this can often reverse a diagnosis.

To help initiate this stage of development, exaggerate your facial expressions and make as much eye contact with your child as possible. When your child successfully mimics you or makes eye contact, offer social rewards such as cuddling or caressing. When you use socialization as a reward rather than toys, you continue to reinforce a positive sensory association with human contact.

Appreciating New Sensations: 1-2 Years

After your child reaches the one-year mark, they may begin to seek out new feelings, noises, smells, and tastes. New flavors should start to appeal to your child between 13 and 18 months. If not, try incorporating sensory integration activities into their daily routine to expose them to various textures and shapes.

For example, you could cut a hole in a shoe box and fill it with small objects that have different textures and shapes. Close the box, then let your child feel each object through the hole. This encourages sensory exploration on your child’s own terms, rather than forcing them to endure upsetting sensations.

Copying Actions and Words: 2 Years

At the age of two, most children begin to copy the words and actions of adults and other children. They may even exhibit defiant behaviors, often called the “Terrible Two’s.” They often begin to include other children in games, follow simple instructions, and make an effort to join social groups by mimicking social cues.

If your child plays alongside other kids without joining them, this is another early sign of autism. The game “Simon Says” is a fun way to encourage your child to imitate others’ movements. Reward them for repeating words and behaviors accurately.

If your child does miss these milestones, contact Integrity, Inc. in Little Rock to learn more about the sensory activities for children with developmental disabilities utilized in our therapy programs. Call 501-406-0442 to schedule an appointment.

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