If your baby is quick to take his or her first steps, it's probably a great source of pride for you....and it may also predict a lot of pride down the road. But a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that babies whose motor skills (think: crawling, standing, walking) sharpen early on may be destined for success later in life.
"Our findings are consistent with those of longitudinal studies performed a few decades ago, showing that the age a child achieved major milestones of standing or walking were predictors of later child performance in memory," Akhgar Ghassabian, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health and lead author of the study, said. "Given advances in prenatal care, the lifestyle of contemporary women and children, advances in pediatric medicine and early interventions, we undertook our study to determine if the timing of major milestones correlated with later development in a contemporary United States sample of children. This is a promising lead, but we need more studies to see if this will actually pan out."
The team of researchers looked at 599 milestone reports recorded by mothers of children born between 2008 and 2010 as part of the study. Mothers recorded when their children sat up without support for the first time, crawled for the first time, stood alone and walked without assistance.
"In this study, parents completed an easy-to-administer assessment on their children's progress, which served as a useful indicator of later development," Ghassabian said of the study's methods.
The study's authors found a link between the age at which babies first stood and their cognitive abilities at age four. For example, most babies stand independently at around 9 months, and according to the study's authors, those who didn't stand alone until 11 months had lower test scores at age 4.
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This new research may do more than just help us understand how certain children develop. "Being able to identify any delay in a child's development early is important. Intervening early can greatly improve a child's developmental outcomes," Ghassabian said. "Also, identification of any deviation from normal development and, subsequently, diagnosis, is a stressful process for parents. Parents are very aware of their children's developmental stages. We showed that parents are very helpful in identifying developmental delays in children."
But the study is not a perfect representation. For one thing, when it came to twins, the results were a bit complicated. "For twins, key predictors of later development, such as gestational age and birth weight, overshadow the potential predictive role of milestones in infancy," Ghassabian said.
That said, further research is necessary to determine whether the onset of motor skills can really predict cognitive abilities later in life—and if this association carries on into adulthood.