Understanding Gross Motor Delay in Children

Father Encouraging Baby Daughter To Take First Steps At Home

  • A gross motor delay is a term used when children do not meet gross motor milestones within a certain time frame.
  • Children with gross motor delays may have stiff or loose muscles.
  • Gross motor delays can be part of a global developmental delay.
  • There are several causes of gross motor delays.
  • Early interventions help children to improve their gross motor skills.

Many parents worry when their children don’t hit developmental milestones within a certain age range. When my youngest child still wasn’t walking at 15 months, I knew something wasn’t right. So, I shared my concerns about her multiple delays with our pediatrician. 

He completed an examination to determine what might be going on. Eventually, we learned that my child has cerebral palsy, a common cause of gross motor delay in children.

Since then, I learned a lot about gross motor delays. I also learned that there are many great treatment options for children like my daughter. With early intervention and the right care, recovery from these early childhood conditions can be possible.

What is Gross Motor Delay?

Motor skills relate to how a person’s muscles move to complete a specific function. As a baby grows and develops, its muscles gain the strength to perform certain tasks. They start sitting up, walking, or holding a spoon in their hand. These motor skills fall into two categories: gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills are usually whole-body movements that involve large muscles. Some gross motor functions include rolling over, sitting upright, and walking. Fine motor skills, on the other hand, are those using the small muscles in the hand and wrist such as clapping, picking up a piece of food, or turning a page of a book. 

Sometimes, a child doesn’t meet gross motor milestones like other children. When this happens, doctors may look for possible problems with the child’s gross motor development.

A gross motor delay is a catch-all term medical professionals use for children who do not meet specific gross motor milestones. A doctor can diagnose a child with a gross motor delay during infancy or the toddler years when milestones are missed. A physical evaluation and discussion about your child’s milestones are used by your doctor to determine a diagnosis.

In some cases, children exhibit developmental delays in all areas. This is called a global developmental delay. Other times, children only experience gross motor delays but still meet milestones for speech and fine motor skills.

Cute playful little boy wearing bodysuit is standing upside down on the floor at his bedroom.

Signs of Gross Motor Delay

Every baby hits developmental milestones at different times. In general, though, infants and toddlers master specific gross motor skills within a certain age range. 

AgeGross Motor Milestone
4 monthsRolling from front to back
6 monthsRolling from back to front
Sitting unassisted
9 monthsMoving from lying to sitting without help
Standing with assistance
Pulling up on furniture
15 monthsStanding and walking independently
18 monthsWalking up and down stairs with assistance
Running independently
2 yearsRuns, skips, and jumps
Bending over and returning to standing without falling

Slight delays on some gross motor milestones aren’t always a cause for alarm. Some babies just master certain skills later than others. However, missing multiple developmental milestones typically indicates a cause for concern. 

Furthermore, some infants and toddlers show other signs of motor delays, such as:

  • Stiff muscles
  • Loose trunk and limbs
  • Limited movement in the legs
  • An inability to bear weight on feet and/or legs

If you have any concerns about your child’s development, use the American Academy of Pediatrics Motor Delay Tool. It will help you determine if your child has gross motor delays.

Two years old girl developing her gross motor skills by walking on big rock stones.

Causes of Gross Motor Delay

Gross motor issues may stem from underdeveloped muscle groups. They can also be a result of muscle strength issues or low muscle tone. They may occur alongside cognitive delays or as part of a global developmental delay, but not always. Ultimately, it depends on the specific cause of the motor delays.

In general, there is not a singular cause for all gross motor delays. However, some causes of gross motor delay include:

  • Premature birth, particularly if accompanied by health complications
  • Developmental conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy
  • Rare diseases or genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
  • Environmental conditions that impede gross motor development

Once a gross motor delay diagnosis is made, your doctor will perform testing to identify a cause behind your child’s developmental delay. This will help you and your child’s doctor determine the best course of treatment to meet your child’s developmental needs.

Gross Motor Delay Treatment Options

Gross motor skills are critical for your child’s overall development. Thus, early intervention is key. Doctors will begin treatment for children as soon as they identify developmental delays.

Common treatment options for gross motor delays include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Sensory-processing therapy

These treatment options help children strengthen their muscles and practice skills to help improve their gross motor function. Toys or assistive equipment can be used to improve muscle tone and function, and children may attend sessions up to 3 times per week.

In some cases, your pediatrician may also refer your child to other specialists, such as neurologists or orthopedists for children with cerebral palsy. These specialists may recommend additional treatment options to support your child’s development.

Receiving a gross motor delay diagnosis may seem overwhelming at first. However, treatments can help your child catch up to his peers.

Understanding Gross Motor Delay in Children Pin

The information WonderBaby provides is not intended to be, and does not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. Always consult with a qualified medical professional about your specific circumstances.


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