As parents, we don't always pay attention to these things until the children go to school, and then the teacher may notice something, but that may mean that we have lost the opportunity to identify early warning signs in development. —Tracy Golden
Beyond weight and height, there are certain indicators in a child's behavior that parents can identify to help prevent future health problems.
Between birth and age 5, children should be able to achieve certain goals in their development.
"Besides the typical questions, such as weight, height or what they eat, we encourage families to seek another type of skill development," said Tracy Golden, ambassador of the national campaign "Learn the Signs. Act Early" from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The four keys to look for are how they play, how they speak, how they act and how they learn.
"As parents, we don't always pay attention to these things until the children go to school, and then the teacher may notice something, but that may mean that we have lost the opportunity to identify early warning signs in development."
Certain behavior and mobility disorders, such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, attention deficit disorder, mental retardation and spina bifida, can be detected at an early age.
"Parents can look for these signs from a very early age, from zero to 4 years old," Golden said.
She explained that the first step is to note the absence of an important behavior and then communicate that concern to a health professional, instead of waiting to see what happens.
"We try to educate parents, but also medical specialists," she said. "Often pediatricians or family physicians do not have the expertise in child development.
"Parents need to become advocates for their family. If if they feel that there is a signal and if the doctor does not recognize it, they may look for a second opinion or search online for information and consult with people with more resources. It can be very unfortunate if they keep waiting to see what happens and years later be faced (with) a situation that they could have prevented."
In addition to watching for warning signs, parents can do some exercises with their children to help them achieve the goals appropriate to their age.
From 2 months of age, smiles, glances and movements are indicators of development. Exercises, such as showing a baby a mirror, can contribute to the learning process.
Detailed information, plus specific behaviors and skills a child should develop, can be found at www.cdc.gov/actearly.
"Some signals may be very obvious and others very subtle, so that is why parents should be aware all the time," Golden said.
By the end of 7 months, many children are able to:
Turn their head when their name is called.
Smile back at another person.
Respond to sound with sounds.
Enjoy social play, such as peek-a-boo.
By the end of 12 months, many children are able to:
Use simple gestures, like waving "bye-bye."
Make sounds, such as "ma" and "da."
Imitate actions in their play.
Respond when told "no."
By the end of 18 months, many children are able to:
Do simple pretend play.
Point to interesting objects.
Look at an object when you point at it and tell them to look.
Use several single words unprompted.
By the end of two years, many children are able to:
Use two- to four-word phrases.
Follow simple instructions.
Become more interested in other children.
Point to an object or picture when named.
By the end of three years, many children are able to:
Show affection for playmates.
Use four- to five-word sentences.
Imitate adults and playmates.
Play make-believe with dolls, animals and people.
By the end of four years, many children are able to:
Use five- to six-word sentences.
Follow three-step requests, such as "get dressed, wash your face and comb your hair."
Cooperate with other children.