Kids' Developmental Milestones Just Changed — For the 1st Time In Decades

by Lauren Levy
A brown-haired kid wearing a blue tracksuit while being at the doctor with his mother

The CDC and AAP announced new updates to developmental milestones for babies and kids that haven’t been changed in nearly 20 years

From the moment you find out baby is coming, it can feel like each day there’s new (and often contradictory) parenting advice or rules. Whether it’s when baby should start sleeping in his or her own room, how they should sleep (is it back or stomach today?), or at what age to turn their car seat, best practices in the parenting world are ever-evolving, and sometimes at rapid speed. But despite how it may feel, this isn’t true for everything: developmental milestones for little ones just changed — for the first time in nearly two decades.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control released updated guidelines for screening infants and toddlers for developmental delays. This update to the milestone checklists is the first in almost 20 years and it’s an important one: changing these benchmarks to help parents as well as pediatricians catch potential delays sooner.

In an effort to help make it easier to identify autism and developmental delays earlier in children, experts have tweaked the CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early campaign. Parents and pediatricians have been using these checklists since 2004 to evaluate at checkups how a child was developing. However, these used 50th percentile, or average-age, milestones as a benchmark for comparison, explained the AAP in a news release. This meant that only around 50 percent of children could be expected to meet that milestone by that age.

“Clinicians reported that following the guideline often was not helpful to families who had concerns about their child’s development,” the release explained. “In some cases, clinicians and families chose a wait-and-see approach, leading to a delay in diagnosis.”

Now, the guidelines have been revised using behaviors that at least 75% children should be expected to hit at a certain age, “based on data, developmental resources and clinician experience.”

Updates include:

  • Adding checklists for ages 15 and 30 months so there is now a checklist for all well-child visit from 2 months to 5 years
  • New social and emotional milestones
  • Cutting vague language as well as duplicates for certain milestones
  • Adding open-ended questions to help promote discussion between parents and doctors
  • Updating and adding new tips as well as activities that encourage development

“The earlier a child is identified with a developmental delay the better, as treatment as well as learning interventions can begin,” said Dr. Paul H. Lipkin, a member of the AAP Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and Council on Children with Disabilities, who assisted with the revisions, in the press release. “Review of a child’s development with these milestones also opens up a continuous dialogue between a parent and the health care provider about their child’s present and future development.”