Physical Disabilities: Signs of Concern

Baby with club feet

Child care providers are in a good position to recognize problems or delays in young children’s physical and motor development. As they work with children, child care providers should observe their developing physical and motor skills. Pay close attention to a child who does not seems to be progressing through the typical motor developmental milestones — such as holding up the head, rolling over, sitting, standing, walking, and running — at about the same time as other children in the child care program.

It’s important to remember that physical development is a long process, and even typically developing children acquire new skills at different times. Some infants walk as early as 9 or 10 months. Others do not walk until 16 or 17 months. Also keep in mind that crawling is not a universal developmental milestone. Although most infants crawl on hands and knees, some may scoot or crawl on their bellies or may roll to move around.

Signs That May Suggest a Physical Disability

When children miss important physical and motor milestones, they may be showing early signs of a developmental delay or physical disability. The following are typical signs that may suggest a physical disability or motor delay. Child care providers should pay attention if a young child:

  • has unusually tight muscle tone and resists sitting up or bending the knees
  • has unusually loose muscle tone and cannot hold his head up after about 3 months
  • does not reach for toys
  • has trouble releasing objects voluntarily
  • does not reach across the body during play
  • reaches only with one hand, even when feeding himself
  • doesn’t put hands out to catch himself if falling
  • has poorly developed hand or finger coordination and cannot pick up or hold objects
  • has poor balance or stumbles and trips frequently

If you suspect that a child may have a physical or motor delay, observe carefully for several days. Make note of what the child can do well and where she is having difficulty. Share your concerns with parents. If the child appears to be delayed in developing certain physical skills, you might recommend that parents take the child to be screened. The ips for Child Care Providers to Communicate Concerns about Children’s Development with Parents  article has specific suggestions on how to approach parents with your concerns.

For More Information

 For more information on supporting children with special needs in a child care program, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care section on Child Care for Children with Special Needs, or take a look at the article Adapting the Child Care Environment for Children with Special Needs. To find specific ways to support children with physical disabilities in the child care environment, see Specific Ideas for Child Care Providers to Help Children with Physical Disabilities.

Photo by Brachet Youri / CC BY