Gross Motor Delay Causes in Infants & Children

Understanding the causes of gross motor delay in infants and children first involves understanding what gross motor delay is and how it might be identified and diagnosed. 

Gross motor skills involve whole-body movements and the use of the larger muscles in the arms, legs, and trunk. Several gross motor milestones, organized by age, that infants and children are expected to reach include crawling, standing unaided, walking, and running. 

The following are some of the main gross motor milestones between birth and two years old:

Age Gross motor milestone
4 months Rolls over from front to back
6 months Rolls over from back to front, sits unaided
9 months Moves from lying down to sitting up without assistance, begins to stand using furniture and other aids
15 months Walks independently
18 months Climbs up and down stairs with assistance, is able to run
2 years Jumps with two feet, is able to propel a ride on vehicle forward

Not meeting a particular milestone may not necessarily constitute a delay. It may simply be a case of a child developing at a different pace in terms of gross motor skills. For example, most infants learn to crawl at different ages, with some sipping this milestone altogether. This in itself does not necessarily signify a delay or a cause for concern. 

However, a failure to meet several gross motor milestones or the consistent missing of milestones might signify a medical or health issue that needs to be addressed. 

Gross Motor Delay Causes in infants and children

The main causes of gross motor delay in infants and children include:

  1. Premature birth: some babies born prematurely experience health issues that might affect their gross motor development. They may develop slower than their peers. Premature babies also sometimes have delayed muscle growth and development.
  2. Developmental conditions: developmental conditions, such as autism, can impact all areas of a child’s development, including their gross motor skills. Children with autism often display gross motor delays in childhood.
  3. Rare diseases and genetic syndrome: several rare genetic syndromes have a gross motor delay as a symptom. These include Downs syndrome, Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, Russell-Silver syndrome, and Angelman syndrome. If a gross motor delay is suspected as being caused by a rare syndrome, genetic analysis and testing may also be recommended as a part of the diagnosis.
  4. Neurodevelopmental disorders: conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular atrophy may also present with motor delay in infants and children.
  5. Environment and care: for some children, a gross motor delay may result from a lack of physical exercise and opportunities to move. This may be due to limited resources or the result of neglect.

If you have any concerns about your child’s gross motor development, the first step is to consult with a trusted medical professional or practitioner. What may follow is assessment and evaluation, followed by recommendations for treatments and physical therapy.

In some instances, you may be referred to a genetic counselor for genetic analysis and screening, as developmental delay in any area of a child’s development may indicate a genetic cause or rare disease.


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