Therapy to Help Your Child Develop
Ray Smith
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Therapy to Help Your Child Develop

As a parent, watching your child grow and learn to do new things never gets old. From their first words and steps to learning to feed themselves, and write their own names, every milestone is significant on their journey to become their full selves. 

While most children reach developmental milestones around certain ages, some may take longer. In many instances, the delay is simply that: a delay. But in other cases, the delay may signal a bigger issue. 

The good news is that the majority of developmental delays aren’t permanent. With the right kind of therapy, children can push through delays and continue on their developmental journey.

The key is recognizing when they might need support and getting  the right kind of help as early as possible. 

There are three primary types of pediatric developmental therapy, each focusing on different motor and cognitive skill development. They are:

  1. Physical therapy: helps children improve their range of motion, strength, flexibility, and movement patterns.
  2. Occupational therapy: helps children gain independence while also strengthening the development of fine motor skills, sensory motor skills, and visual motor skills needed to function, socialize, and perform daily activities.
  3. Speech therapy: helps detect and correct early developmental delays and resolve improper speech patterns, and challenges with swallowing and eating.  

Recognizing your child needs therapy, and which type of therapy, can be a little tricky. For young children, it’s important to track developmental milestones (see below). If your child is:  

3 months: Turns their head towards bright color and lights, move both eyes in the same direction together, recognize bottle or breast, react to sudden sounds and voices, make cooing sounds, make fists with both hands, grasps toys or hair, wiggle and kicks arms and legs, lift head and chest when on stomach, smile

6 months: turn toward the source of normal sound, reach for objects and pick them up, switch toys from one hand to the other, play with their toes, help hold bottle during feeding, recognize familiar faces, babble

12 months: sit without support, pull to standing position, crawl, drink from a cup, play peek-a-boo and patty cake, wave bye-bye, hold out arms and legs while being dressed, put objects in a container, stack two blocks, use 3 or more words consistently

18 months: like to push, pull, and dump things; follow simple directions; pull off socks, shoes and mittens; like to look at pictures; feed themselves; make marks on paper with crayons; walk without help; consistently uses 7 or more true single words

By 2 years: use 2- to 3-word sentences, say names of toys, recognize familiar pictures, carry something while walking, feed themselves with spoon, play independently, turn 2 to 3 pages at a time, imitate their parents, identify body parts (hair, nose, ears, eyes) by pointing, stack four blocks, show affection

By 3 years: use 3- to 5-word sentences, puts on shoes, walks upstairs alternating feet, ride a tricycle, open doors, turn one page at a time, play with other children for a few minutes, repeat common rhymes, name at least one color correctly, are toilet trained

If your child is behind on one or more of these milestones, a conversation with their doctor or primary caregiver may be beneficial.

If your child is not yet school-aged, your doctor can direct you to resources to assess and address your child’s delay. While it’s best to have the needs of children of this age assessed in the home setting—especially developmental needs, it can be successfully accomplished in an office setting.

If your child is school-aged, it’s likely a teacher may alert you to something they’re noticing in the classroom or playground. However, if you have a concern that no one else has pointed out, don’t dismiss it. From struggling to sound out words to having trouble getting themselves dressed—a parent’s instinct is rarely wrong. It’s in your child’s best interest to reach out to their teachers and ask for their thoughts and insight on the issue. Many schools have therapists on staff who can provide your child extra support during the course of the regular school day. 

In some cases, working with a specific type of therapist from outside of school may be recommended for medical or developmental needs. 

While it’s understandable to want to hold off on seeking intervention to see if your child simply develops at their own pace, waiting too long can have consequences. 

Therapy of any type is most effective when provided early while your child’s brain and muscle memory are still developing and adaptable. The right therapy at the right time can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills and overcome challenges while increase success in school and life.

It’s also important for you and your child to recognize that most pediatric therapies aren’t forever. They’re simply a bridge to successfully get your child to their next milestone. From there, there’s no telling how far they’ll go.  

If you’re concerned about your child’s development or delays, don’t wait to seek early intervention support. Contact your primary providers for help and guidance. 


Kathy Sleeman, DPT, is the Director of Rehabilitation Services at SVHC Pediatric Rehabilitation Services.

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