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December 23, 2019

Pediatric Physical Therapy: Making Playtime Therapeutic for Your Child With a Gross Motor Delay

What are gross motor skills?

  • Gross motor skills are used in movements that use the arms, legs, and torso, and include activities like rolling, crawling, walking, running, or throwing a ball.
  • Fine motor skills are more precise movements, such as picking up small objects, holding a crayon, or using scissors.

Children all develop at their own pace, but specific milestones are generally met at different phases of development. If you’ve noticed that your child isn’t able to perform certain tasks or participate in activities with their peers, they may be experiencing a motor delay.

Children can have a delay in either gross motor skills, fine motor skills, or both at once. If you’re concerned about your child’s developmental growth, consult your pediatrician. It’s important to schedule regular check-ups and wellness visits so any potential issues are identified early.

What is a gross motor delay?

If your child is a late walker or seems slow to develop a certain skill, it’s not always a cause for concern, but it is worth further observation. Knowing the common gross motor skill milestones will help you develop an awareness of the average timeline for these activities, which are listed below.

All children develop at a different pace, however, there is an age range for each developmental skill. If your child is slower to develop one skill, they might also be slower to develop subsequent gross motor skills because they are achieved on a continuum. If your child is “behind” on the age range for one skill, your pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric physical therapist for further evaluation.

  • 2 months: Lifts head up 45 degrees on the stomach
  • 3 months: Lifts head up 90 degrees on the stomach while leaning on elbows, may roll belly to back
  • 4-6 months: Rolls back to stomach, begins to prop-sit while leaning forward on arms
  • 6-7 months: Sits up on their own without support
  • 7-8 months: Belly crawls
  • 9-10 months: Crawls on hands and knees, pull self to standing position, begins to cruise along with furniture
  • 10-12 months: Cruises along with furniture, begins to stand a few seconds on their own
  • 12-15 months: Takes first steps and begins to walk
  • 18-24 months: Performs stairs with two feet per step with a handheld or hand on the rail
  • 24-30 months: Jumps up with two feet together
  • 36-40 months: Pedals a tricycle, performs stairs on their own one foot per step
  • 48-52 months: Skips, hops on 1 foot

What should I do if my child is behind on motor milestones?

If your pediatrician suspects a gross motor delay, your pediatrician can refer your child to physical therapy. Or, if you as the parent are worried about your child’s gross motor development, you can bring this up with your pediatrician and/or ask your pediatrician for a physical therapy referral.

How does pediatric physical therapy help?

Physical therapy can help your child build strength and balance to achieve motor milestones! A physical therapist will look at your child’s developmental skill level and perform a thorough assessment of your child’s muscle strength, muscle length, balance, posture, alignment, and coordination to determine a treatment plan. The “treatment” involves making playtime therapeutic! Your pediatric physical therapist will find ways to disguise exercises into games and FUN.

Additionally, if your child is not at a certain skill in the age range, such as walking, your child might just need more time to develop the strength and coordination for that skill. However, your physical therapist will want to make sure that your child is progressing towards that skill, and will ask questions such as — is your child crawling, pulling to stand, and cruising? Does your child enjoy putting weight through his legs? Does your child have an appropriate balance to stand? There are important smaller aspects of strength and balance that contribute to gross motor skills, and a pediatric physical therapist can assess your child’s medical history and current developmental level.

If you have further questions about gross motor development, call our office and ask for a free physical therapy screening or visit our website and join one of our physical therapy enrichment groups, Budding Babies (for pre-crawlers) or Wee Walkers (for pre-walkers).

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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