Many parents worry about whether their child is hitting developmental milestones at the right time during their first two years of life. Sometimes, these concerns aren’t a huge deal. Other times, parents become so wrapped up in their fears about their child’s development that they experience milestone anxiety.
Milestone anxiety often makes parents worry they aren’t doing enough for their child, and it can interfere with a parent’s ability to interact with their child because they’re too wrapped up in their fears. However, milestone anxiety isn’t always a bad thing — and I learned that firsthand.
From the very beginning of my youngest daughter’s life, I could tell she was a very different child from her older sibling. Some might call her a late bloomer, and others would say she’s just her own little person. However, as I carefully compared her development to her older siblings during their first two years of life, I couldn’t help but feel like something wasn’t right.
At first, I told myself that all the experts say kids don’t all follow the same trajectory when it comes to hitting all the developmental milestones doctors look for in infants and toddlers. As she continued to hit milestones late, though, I started to really scrutinize her progression.
Anytime I brought my concerns up to others, they would dismiss my feelings as “milestone anxiety.” They’d remind me that every child is different, and they all eventually hit milestones. I really wanted to believe them, but I couldn’t just wash away that milestone anxiety. Instead, I just kept my concerns to myself and hoped those older and wiser than me would eventually be right.
My daughter finally started walking at around 17 months old, which was close to eight months after her older sibling did. However, her gait looked abnormal, and her ankles often seemed to buckle or turn in. She would also frequently freeze up or move in a way that made it seem like her brain and her body were not communicating correctly. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could definitively say that she was experiencing some type of motor development issue.
Yet, no one else seemed concerned. Some people said she would build up strength. Others said it was “just a weird phase” that she would “surely grow out of.” But guess what? She didn’t.
By her second birthday, my anxiety took over completely. I started doing internet research to find out what could be going on. I eventually narrowed it down to a few possible causes, including cerebral palsy.
Over the next few months, I read everything I could find about cerebral palsy. I learned how it develops, the different types, how the diagnosis process works, and what interventions could be helpful. Eventually, I confided in a friend who I knew lived with cerebral palsy.
And, instead of dismissing my concerns, she validated them. That was the confidence boost I needed to finally schedule an appointment with my child’s pediatrician to discuss everything.
With photos and videos on my phone and a list of observations to share, we made our way into the doctor’s office. He looked everything over, consulted her charts from previous appointments, and said, “Although the delayed milestones alone didn’t seem that alarming, all of this put together does make it seem like something is going on.”
Fast-forward several months: We met with a neurologist. She completed a physical exam and ordered an MRI. My daughter also completed a screener exam that involved lots of different demonstrations of gross and fine motor skills, along with some speaking and following commands. After compiling all the data, she concluded that my toddler did, in fact, have cerebral palsy.
With a diagnosis, my child was able to receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy services. She also got a prescription for supra malleolar orthosis (SMOs) to wear as a support for her arches and ankles and serve as a corrective for her gait. Suddenly my milestone anxiety was no longer irrational fear — it was the catalyst for my child to receive the interventions she desperately needed.
We’re now several years removed from my child’s initial diagnosis, and I wouldn’t change what I did whatsoever. Thanks to the various therapies my child received during her toddler and preschool years, my daughter was only slightly behind her peers by the time she started kindergarten in 2020. More recently, she received the Most Improved Award at her school this year, and her first-grade teacher said she was blown away by the progress my child has made over the course of one school year.
Now, this isn’t to say she still doesn’t have hard days, because she does. Sometimes the spasticity of her muscles makes it difficult for her to run or even walk. Yet, on other days, her condition is barely noticeable. Regardless, my child has the tools she needs to make things happen, and she doesn’t let anything stop her from living life to the fullest.
While milestone anxiety is often dismissed by others, I firmly believe a mother always knows when her fears are justified. In my case, my milestone anxiety actually helped my toddler. Had I not expressed my concerns and taken it upon myself to find answers, my daughter would have never received the help she needed to thrive.
Early Intervention Benefits Kids With Cerebral Palsy