When Did Your Child First Walk? The Answer May be an Indicator of Future Success

A new study led by UAlbany's Upstate KIDS program has found associations between early childhood milestones and later success across the normal range of development.

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 5, 2016) -- A child who stands earlier with assistance is a predictor of better developmental skills, independent of gestational age or birth weight, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study, conducted through the Upstate KIDS program at the University at Albany in partnership with the New York State Department of Health and the National Institutes of Health, found that the associations between early childhood milestones and later success existed across the normal range of development and were in particular observed for adaptive skills and cognitive abilities.

"Clinically, our findings suggest that infant age when achieving a motor milestone may be an important indicator of later child development," said Erin Bell, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health. "The predictive value of an easy-administered simple assessment, such as age at achievement of standing, for later adaptive and cognitive skills in children provides parents and clinicians with additional information for assessing child development."

The Upstate KIDS study tracked gross motor development at 4, 8, 12, 18 and 24 months. Each child’s mother reported when her child sat up without support for the first time, crawled for the first time and stood and walked for the first time with and without assistance.

The results imply that the importance of normal progression of infant motor development to subsequent developmental status may not be limited to children with developmental disabilities. Rather, within the normal range, achieving a gross motor milestone earlier than peers may have favorable effects on adaptive skills and cognitive performance in childhood.

The findings are consistent with previous investigations that highlight the influence of the speed of development during infancy on later cognition. The study found no association between infants’ age of milestone achievement and children’s personal/social or communication skills. The researchers suggest further investigation is needed to explore whether the continuity between infant motor milestone and development is restricted to adaptive or cognitive domain only or it also exists in other domains of development.

Singletons vs. Twins

The study was also the first to examine the longitudinal association of time to achieve milestones and later development in twins. Compared with singletons, otherwise healthy twins are usually born at earlier weeks of gestation, have slightly lower Apgar scores at birth, and are born to older mothers. As a result, multiple competing risk factors of delayed development exist in twins that could potentially overshadow the predictive role of milestones in infancy for later development. Future studies are needed to confirm the findings.

The analysis was conducted through the Upstate KIDS study, a population-based birth program focused on examining the association between infertility treatment and child development. Upstate KIDS is a collaboration between the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, the New York State Department of Health and the University at Albany’s School of Public Health.

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