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Identifying Developmental Delays during Pediatric Doctor Visits

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As a parent, it can be difficult to tell if your child is progressing normally through the stages of development or falling behind on developmental milestones. As your baby grows into a toddler and then a young child, you count on their pediatrician to monitor their overall health and detect any medical conditions they may be suffering from. One of the biggest challenges facing parents is how to know if your child is experiencing developmental delays and if so, where these problems began. It is up to your child’s doctor to continuously assess their physical and cognitive development and to identify and treat any underlying conditions that may exist.

What are Motor Delays?

The term motor delay is defined as a child having abnormally slow development of fine or gross motor skills. Motor delays are common in children and highly variable. Some gross motor delays are severe, requiring lifelong medical care. Permanent motor disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy occur in approximately 3 out of every 1,000 children. On the other hand, about 6% of children experience developmental coordination disorder (DCD), which typically manifests in kindergarten and continues throughout their life.

Screening for Motor Skills and Developmental Delays

One of the key indicators of future developmental delays is early delays in motor milestones. Many times, an infant who has motor activity impairments will experience future delays with developmental milestones. This is why it is critical for physicians to evaluate and identify potential signs of developmental delays early in a child’s life. By detecting motor skill delays, doctors can diagnose underlying medical conditions and help parents with developing a plan of action. If the child’s condition has a genetic component, this can be vital information if you are considering having another child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a variety of recommendations for doctors providing medical care to children. In fact, the AAP created a 12-step guide for pediatricians to evaluate children and detect potential developmental delays. It recommends formal developmental screening in children at 9, 18, 30 and 48 months and provides specific guidance as to motor skills at every stage. When screening at each visit, doctors should evaluate the following:

  • 9 months: rolling over, sitting up without help, grasping objects, transferring objects from one hand to another
  • 18 months: sitting, standing, and walking on their own, grasping and handling small items
  • 30 months: fine motor skills, oral abilities, speech impairments, loss of previous skills
  • 48 months: handwriting, scribbling, drawing stick figures, feeding themself, and engaging with other children

Diagnosing Developmental Delays

There are several diagnostic tools available for doctors when they suspect a child may have motor delays. Your child’s doctor should review your child’s entire medical history, including prenatal and perinatal records. This will provide vital information about conditions that may have occurred during fetal development or injuries that may have occurred during labor or delivery. The doctor should also peform a thorough physical exam. They should check the circumference of your child’s head, their height or length, their weight, and how these numbers compare with normal growth curves. Additionally, it is recommended that pediatricians conduct a neurologic exam and possibly order an MRI of the brain, as well as a test for serum creatine kinase levels. They can also use a number of universal tests, including the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) and the Parents Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS).

When Medical Negligence Occurs

If your child is diagnosed with a neurological condition or has other healthcare needs, their doctor should provide you with referrals to appropriate specialists and work with the care team to coordinate long-term care. Regularly monitoring the child and participating in continued coordinated care is imperative to ensure the best outcomes. Unfortunately, some doctors fail to properly monitor childhood development and even make errors during prenatal care or childbirth that cause developmental delays and neurological conditions. As a parent of a child with developmental delays, you may be wondering if your doctor played a role in your child’s condition or if it could have been detected earlier. To find out about your rights and the legal avenues that may be available to you, contact our experienced New Jersey pediatric malpractice attorneys at 866-708-8617. We provide consultations at no cost to you and your child’s information remains entirely confidential.

Resource: Motor Delays: Early Identification and Evaluation, American Academy of Pediatrics

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