Typical and Atypical Motor Development

Parents and health practitioners often track and measure a child’s developmental milestones from infancy to middle school. Developmental milestones include physical or behavioral signs of physical, social, and cognitive progress that lead to mastery over one’s environment. Smiling, crawling, manipulating objects, walking, self-care, and talking are examples of developmental milestones that provide valuable insight into a child’s development.

Most children develop skills in similar patterns and at similar times. But attaining milestones varies, based on each child’s family and personal history and environment. Therefore, milestones are generally reported in age ranges, rather than by a specific age.

Atypical Motor Development

Every child is unique. Each develops at his or her own pace and style. You might be concerned if your child is not yet crawling or walking when many peers are already displaying this skill. But remember that there are variations in typical development. That’s why developmental milestones are noted as ranges.

Is your infant or child showing significant delays or different patterns of achieving major milestones? This could be a sign of a motor or movement disorder. These are examples: a child who cannot maintain sitting by the tenth month or a child whose legs get very stiff every time he tries to roll over. Older children may also be displaying atypical development if they are not able to eat with utensils or dress or undress, or if they have trouble cutting with scissors or drawing.

Parents and family members who have concerns about a child’s development should bring their concerns to their health care providers as soon as possible. Sometimes all parents need is information about typical developmental. However, if you continue to see problems with your child’s development, you may need to be assertive to obtain the appropriate referrals to specialists.

Pediatricians may refer a child for further evaluation and testing with a neurologist , orthopedist ( or other specialist. The doctor may want to use specialized tests, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) , an electroencephalogram (EEG) , or laboratory tests to gather information about your child’s brain, spine, or musculoskeletal system.

The causes of motor delays are many. They include these factors:

  • Genetics
  • Intrauterine and other environmental factors
  • Prematurity

In some cases, the cause is unknown. Children with persistent, serious motor skill delays may eventually receive a specific diagnosis such as one of these:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Spina bifida
  • Congenital hypotonia
  • Progressive metabolic disorder


Miller, L. J. and Fuller, D. A (2007) Sensational kids: Hope And Help for Children With Sensory Processing Disorder. New York: Penguin Group.

Tecklin, J. S. (2007) Pediatric Physical Therapy. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.


Wilms Floet, A.M. (2006) “Motor Skills Disorder.” Emedicine: Medscape’s Continually Updated Clinical Reference.