12 NEWS: Valley Medical Experts Say New Milestones in Child Development Gives Clearer Benchmarks for Families

How new child developmental changes will affect Arizona families

PHOENIX — For the first time in nearly 20 years, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics has made changes to its developmental milestones in children. The revisions, both groups said, are meant to give medical experts more specific guidelines as children grow.

Valley medical experts at Banner Desert Children’s and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center said the modifications presented clearer benchmarks for both families and pediatricians. That’s important so teams of medical experts can identify developmental delays. 

Some of the most noticeable milestone changes include removing ambiguous language such as “may” or “begins”. More checklists, including creating a milestone list for every checkup from 2 months to 5 years old, were also added.

Banner Desert Children’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anthony Ani, said the changes more clearly identify social and emotional milestones children should be meeting.

“Because we know that when these children are identified, early interventions do help in the ability to overcome some of these developmental challenges,” Dr. Ani said. 

Another update is now asking about milestones 75% or more of children can be expected to achieve at an age, rather than 50% of children.

SARRC’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Chris Smith, said they’re casting a wide net with a lot of opportunities to identify possible reasons for delays. And the revisions are based on data from peer-reviewed manuscripts and published articles.

“They were very careful to say they were going to pick milestones at certain age groups that they have documentation that says 75% of kids at this age group will be doing these kinds of behaviors," Dr. Smith said. "That suggests the other 25% that isn’t doing it should be looked at for a potential developmental delay, and that’s a key element to its efficacy.”

A couple of milestone changes that have raised questions for some parents is delaying walking from 12 to 18 months and starting to talk from 12 to 15 months.

SARRC’s Dr. Smith said he doesn’t view those as problems because the milestones are data-driven and the age children start to talk is variable.

“I think what they’re trying to do is not alarm parents by saying your child isn’t talking at 12 months, you need pursue an evaluation here," Dr. Smith said. "At 15 months that’s a more definitive concern and the fact that it's based on data collected over the past 20 years, makes me feel better about that.”

Dr. Smith added parents shouldn’t look at any one milestone in isolation, but rather need to look at milestones as a whole.

Emily Swank is a Valley mom of two boys who are on the spectrum. She’s also the founder of Autism Assistant, a website that makes it easier for families to find providers for autistic children.

Swank is a big supporter of early intervention as she was with her own boys and encourages parents to speak up and be proactive with their children.

“You have to go with your gut, and if you feel like your child is behind and delayed, especially if you see it in multiple areas," Swank said. "Don’t be afraid to speak up early and say I’m concerned about this. We’re seeing multiple delays. What can we do now to try and help work with them and work on these delays now.”

The CDC’s free milestone tracker app is available for download and has checklists helping parents track their child’s development through age 5. It also has alerts about missed milestones so parents can ask pediatricians about concerns.

Learn about early screening programs at sarrc