Skip to main content


Ages at Which Children Usually Develop Specific Skills

Sam’s parents are worried. He’s 18 months old and doesn’t have many of the skills his older sister had at that age.

Grandma, too, is concerned. “Shouldn’t he be...,” has cropped up in several conversations. “He’s healthy and seems fine otherwise,” said the doctor at the last appointment. “Let’s see how he’s doing at his two-year check."

What Should Parents Do?

1. They should determine as early as possible, with help from professionals and second opinions if necessary, if their child does have special needs.

2. If so, they should seek services without delay.

Early intervention programs established by federal and state law are located across Minnesota and the nation. Through screening and assessment, the programs can help families identify special needs in young children and guide them to services confidentially and at no cost. If the parents disagree with results of their child’s screening, they can request a closer look or an assessment. If still dissatisfied, there is an appeal process. Most experts advise parents to begin services as soon as possible if their child has special needs. Experience shows that early intervention is a major factor in helping children with disabilities reach their potentials.

How the System Works

The names of the early intervention programs and numbers to call vary from community to community in Minnesota. Parents can locate their local program by calling the child’s physician, local public health department, school district or special education director, county human services agency, or parent training and information center (PACER Center).

Shortly after parents contact the local program, a service facilitator will talk to them by telephone or in person to gather preliminary information about the child and offer free screening.

If the screening indicates delays in a child’s development, the facilitator and an “interagency review team,” composed of local health, human services, and education professionals, may do an assessment of the child’s development. The assessment determines whether the child qualifies for services. If the child is eligible, the team and family work together to design an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) with services and support. If the child is not eligible, the family may be referred to other resources for information, services, and support. The team may also suggest follow-up to determine if the child qualifies for services later.

Childhood Skills

Following is a brief list of skills compiled from several sources. It indicates skills the majority of children accomplish at certain ages.

Parents should not panic if a child is not doing all of the items in their age group. If the child can perform none or only a few of the skills, however, the family may want to take a closer look at their child’s development.

Several resources provided information upon which the checklist is based. They include PACER Center; the Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning; the Minnesota Department of Health; Hennepin County Community Health; and others.

By 3 months, a child usually can:

  • look toward bright colors and lights
  • move eyes in the same direction together
  • react to bottle or breast
  • react to loud noises or voices
  • make a fist with either hand
  • grasp hair or toy
  • wiggle and kick
  • lift head and chest when on stomach
  • smile in social interaction
  • vocalize and coo

By 6 months, a child usually can:

  • turn over from stomach to back
  • follow moving objects with eyes
  • distinguish mother from others
  • turn toward source of normal sound
  • pick up toy with one hand
  • transfer objects from one hand to the other
  • play with toes
  • help hold bottle during feeding
  • recognize familiar persons
  • babble

By 9 months, a child usually can:

  • sit without support
  • feed self cracker or cookie
  • push away things not wanted
  • reach for familiar persons
  • roll from back to stomach
  • make wide range of vocalizations
  • react when called by name

By 12 months, a child usually can:

  • crawl on hands and knees
  • pull to standing position
  • walk around furniture or crib while holding on
  • drink from a cup
  • wave bye-bye and play peek-a-boo and pattycake
  • pick up small objects with thumb and index finger
  • hold out arms and legs while being dressed
  • put objects into container
  • stack two blocks
  • use five to six words

By 18 months, a child usually can:

  • walk without support
  • enjoy pulling, pushing, and dumping things
  • follow simple directions
  • pull off shoes, socks, mittens
  • enjoy looking at pictures
  • keep balance when stepping off low objects
  • hold cup by self to drink
  • give kisses and hugs
  • feed self with spoon
  • pick up two small toys in one hand
  • talk in single words
  • scribble with crayon

By 2 years, a child usually can:

  • use two to three word sentences
  • recognize familiar pictures
  • carry an object while walking
  • play independently
  • enjoy imitating parents
  • identify hair, eyes, ears, and nose by pointing
  • build a tower of four blocks
  • show affection
  • sometimes say “no” when interfered with
  • kick a ball forward
  • show sympathy to other children
  • run well
  • respond to correction
  • take off open coat or shirt without help
  • walk up and down stairs alone
  • turn pages of picture book one at a time
  • follow two-part instructions

At 3 years, a child usually can:

  • ride a tricycle
  • repeat common rhymes
  • name at least one color correctly
  • use the toilet
  • help with simple household tasks
  • open door by turning knob
  • climb on play equipment, ladders, slide
  • scribble with circular motion
  • play with other children
  • stand on one foot without support
  • draw or copy vertical lines
  • speak and be understood most of the time
  • play a role in pretend games
  • dress self with help
  • walk up and down stairs alternating feet


Help Me Grow

Some young children need extra help to learn and grow. Help Me Grow is a resource where parents can view developmental milestones, learn if there are concerns, and take the lead in seeking additional support or in referring their child for a comprehensive, confidential screening or evaluation at no cost. Eligible Minnesota children from birth to age 5 can receive services in their home, child care setting, or school. These services are free regardless of income or immigrant status. An interagency initiative of the State of Minnesota, Help Me Grow is a partner with organizations and agencies statewide, including Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Department of Health, and Minnesota Department of Human Services.

16 Gestures By 16 Months

FIRST WORDS® Project, from the Florida State University Autism Institute in the College of Medicine, has developed a series of online lookbooks that illustrate the important social communication skills that children should reach by the age of 16 months. The first lookbook, “16 Gestures by 16 Months,” was released in 2015. Four additional lookbooks will be released later this year.

Good communication development starts in the first year of life and extends far beyond simply learning how to talk. Communication development has its roots in social interaction with parents and other adults during everyday activities.

Though this project was developed by the Autism Institute, it can be a helpful resource for all families.