5 Signs Your Toddler’s Motor Development Might Be Delayed

Babies and toddler develop at their own rates, but the general sequence of events is usually the same. You can drive yourself batty comparing your tot to others, but you’re not crazy in noting if something in your toddler appears to be happening a markedly slower rate than others the same age.

Motor development delays are good ones to catch as early as possible in order to improve chances of optimal improvement.

Here are 5 signs (via that you might need to consult with a doctor about your toddler’s motor development

  • Motor Development Delays in Toddlers 1 of 6
    Motor Development Delays in Toddlers
    5 signs something may not be quite right.
  • Tippy-Toe Walking 2 of 6
    Tippy-Toe Walking
    When babies and toddlers start cruising before walking, it's not unusual to see them on their toes. Walking on tippy toes is also a game for some kids. But if toddlers over the age of 2 spend more time walking on their toes instead of flat feet, there could be some cause concern, especially if they are also uncoordinated, clumsy and seems to suffer from stiff muscles.

    It could be that a toddler walking on tippy toes has a short Achilles tendon, but it could also be the sign of a motor disorder, which is a form of cerebral palsy. The most common form is spastic cerebral palsy and it often affects children who were born prematurely.

    According to, "spasticity implies increased muscle tone. Muscles continually contract, making limbs stiff, rigid, and resistant to flexing or relaxing. Reflexes can be exaggerated, while movements tend to be jerky and awkward. Often, the arms and legs are affected. The tongue, mouth, and pharynx can be affected, as well, impairing speech, eating, breathing, and swallowing."

    If the issue is a short Achilles tendon, a doctor may recommended physical therapy and stretching or an ankle-foot orthosis brace. If the problem is instead cerebral palsy or autism, a doctor might recommend a development assessment to determine the precise type of treatment needed.
  • Stiff Limbs 3 of 6
    Stiff Limbs
    Some toddlers can seem stiff of rigid and they have trouble holding objects in hands using tight fists or relaxing certain muscles, which can be a sign that their muscles are "chronically contracted" due to a condition called hypertonia, or a high muscle tone. Sometimes when they're picked up, their legs might cross like scissors.

    This could be another sign of spastic-type cerebral palsy, which affects 10,000 children in the U.S. annually.

    According to the St. Louis Children's Hospital "treatment of cerebral palsy varies with the age of patients and many options are available. It is important for parents and patients to consult with their treatment team, which includes a physical therapist, pediatrician, rehabilitation medicine specialist, neurologist, neurosurgeon and orthopedic surgeon."
  • Favoring One Hand or Side 4 of 6
    Favoring One Hand or Side
    After a toddler turns 1 but before turning 2, it's possible (and normal) they will start showing a preference for the right or left hand by always using one to hold a cup or eating utensil. However, if they seem specifically reluctant to use the other hand or foot, it could be a sign of a larger problem.

    Hemiplegia in infants and children is a type of cerebral palsy that results from damage to the part (hemisphere) of the brain that controls muscle movements," according to the Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Association. "This damage may occur before, during or shortly after birth. The term hemiplegia means that the paralysis is on one vertical half of the body. A similar medical term, hemiparesis, means a weakness on one side of the body. In children with hemiplegia, the paralysis in the body occurs on the side opposite the affected part of the brain."

    A doctor might prescribe more than one kind of therapy, including physical, occupational, speech and language.
  • Drooling and Difficulty Eating 5 of 6
    Drooling and Difficulty Eating
    Some babies have trouble swallowing, but it's not entirely unusual for drooling, gagging and choking to emerge as problematic once toddlers make the full switch solid foods. Some toddlers push food out of their mouths with their tongues, refuse certain kinds of foods or drool more than usual for their age.

    Some toddlers simply dislike the new foods being offered while for others it can be a sign of a sore throat brought about by something like tonsillitis or an abscess.

    Drooling can also be an indication that a toddler has an oral-motor disorder in which the muscles needed for swallowing are not under control. In other instances, drooling or difficulty eating can be a sign of a sensory processing disorder, which can show up between the ages of 18 and 24 months. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, "sensory processing (sometimes called 'sensory integration' or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses . . . and is a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses." A doctor might recommend occupational, speech and language therapy.
  • Clumsy 6 of 6
    Newsflash! Toddlers are clumsy! They bump into things, fall down, drop stuff. This is normal. Mostly. Some toddlers might bump into walls often or fall down the stairs a lot — and that could be a sign of something that's more unusual.

    "Extreme awkwardness" could be a sign of hypotonia associated with mild cerebral palsy. However, if the clumsiness seems sudden, "it could a sign of a degenerative or progressive disorder such as epilepsy," according to

    If you suspect the clumsiness is klutzier than normal, consult a doctor, who may recommended a vision evaluation, MRI or X-ray. If it's a vision problem, glasses could help reduce the number of accidents.

For 5 more motor development red flags in toddlers, go to

Photo credits: iStockphoto

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