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Better child check-ups: CDC updates milestones checklist

Written By: Andi Atkinson, UT Physicians | Updated: March 8, 2022
Developmental Milestones Image

UT Physicians pediatrician Sarah J. Cavenaugh, MD, explains the key changes to the updated Developmental Milestones checklist by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its Developmental Milestones checklist for parents with children ranging from newborn to age 5.

Sarah J. Cavenaugh, MD, pediatrician at UT Physicians Pediatric Primary Care and assistant professor of pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, believes the revised tracking tool will better aid parents as their children grow.

“The CDC incorporated the American Academy of Pediatrics screening list that pediatricians use. It matches pretty closely to what we already use, so it will be more helpful to parents between visits,” Cavenaugh said.

Released in February 2022, the new milestones checklist is now more specific, more comprehensive, and more proactive.

More specific

The checklist contains more specific wording, so parents can be more confident when checking off a milestone their child has met.

“I believe they [CDC] tried to make the milestones simpler to understand. They’re less vague and more clear,” Cavenaugh said. “For example, one of the milestones for an 18-month-old used to say, ‘Drink from a cup.’ Now it says, ‘Drinks from a cup without a lid and may spill sometimes.’”

More comprehensive

The checklist is more comprehensive to better aid parents as their child grows. The CDC added 15-month and 30-month milestones to give parents extra checkpoints. It also split the milestones into four sections, with one of the sections being new: Social/Emotional (new), Language/Communication, Cognitive, and Movement/Physical Development.

“They recognized that Social/Emotional is an important category,” Cavenaugh said. “For instance, one of the new milestones for a 2-month-old is, ‘Seems happy to see you when you walk up to her.’ A new milestone for a 6-month-old is, ‘Laughs.’”

More proactive

The checklist is designed to help parents and providers be more proactive in a child’s development. The CDC shifted some of the milestones to a later age because they moved each milestone to the age where 75 percent of children should have achieved it instead of 50 percent.

Sarah J. Cavenaugh
Sarah J. Cavenaugh, MD

“The change means that if a child doesn’t reach this milestone by this age, it is considered an abnormality,” Cavenaugh said. “For instance, the old checklist at 50 percent used to say ‘Walking by 15 months.’ This just meant half of children were walking at this age and half were not. Now the new 18-month milestone at 75 percent says, ‘Walks without holding on to anyone or anything.’ If the child is not walking independently by this age, the parent and provider know to start the next steps.”

The pediatrician believes the new CDC checklist will help reduce the “wait and see” approach and encourage parents and providers to act early.

“We don’t have to wait and see anymore,” Cavenaugh said. “If your child hasn’t reached a milestone, we can immediately refer them to the proper therapy to begin that process.”

To view the CDC’s Developmental Milestones or download the checklist, go to the CDC website. The CDC’s Milestone Tracker app can also be downloaded from the website.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.