What Causes Motor Delay?
The first thing the early intervention team told me was that Josie's motor delay was not my fault. I believed them (mostly) and I appreciate the level of reassurance they bring to their work, but the truth is that many babies today are crawling later than babies crawled a generation ago, and the way we care for our babies has something to do with that.
For one thing, the Back to Sleep campaign, which encourages caregivers to put babies to sleep on their backs to minimize risk for sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, means that babies are spending less time on their bellies, practicing the movements that lead to crawling. (Josie is a deep and committed sleeper, which is not something I'd like to change, but it did mean that she spent much of her infanthood lying motionless on her back, thumb in mouth.)
"And babies' development overall is changing because of the equipment we have," says Le Ray. Exersaucers, portable car seats, bouncy chairs: All these modern conveniences are wonderful in their own way—try grocery shopping with an infant in your arms—but they do mean that babies are spending more time being supported by equipment rather than developing muscles to support themselves. "We always say, 'Carry the baby, don't carry the carrier,'" says Le Ray. "As you're holding the baby they're engaging all those muscles.'"
In Josie's case, it was most likely a combination of temperament and lifestyle that led to her gross motor delay. I'm sure I spent less time putting her on her belly and engaging her in games or conversation to keep her interested because I had less time to spend than I had with the other two. She definitely spent a lot of time being shuttled from here to there in her car seat. And when she was sitting, she was engaged enough with her surroundings that it didn't frustrate her not to be moving. She didn't squeak a lot, so she got very little oil. Which brings me to the good part.
Because of all the time she spent sitting and observing, Josie developed killer fine motor skills. When she did start walking (at the ripe old age of 19 months), she was developed enough in other areas to use her newfound mobility to explore with caution and curiosity rather than hurl herself down the stairs or into the fireplace. She understood—and could repeat—the words no, stop, and hot long before she needed to. Her language development and social skills tested above age level both at her initial early intervention assessment and at the assessment the early intervention team performed six months into the work. And, now that we're through with her therapy, I can admit that a few extra months of not having to worry about a moving baby and two other children of preschool age was a bit of a blessing.