Child's Abilities at 9 Months Predict Future Behavior, Learning


The first nine months outside the womb predict a child’s future behavior and learning abilities. This is the conclusion reached by researchers from the University of London’s Institute of Education, who found that babies who were slow to develop certain motor skills by nine months were significantly more likely to have behavior and learning challenges at age five.

Parents typically are concerned about their child’s development, and whether he or she is meeting what are referred to as developmental milestones. According to the University of Michigan Health System, developmental milestones “are a set of functional skills or age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range.” Every child is unique, and therefore “although each milestone has an age level, the actual age when a normally developing child reaches that milestone can vary quite a bit.”

At the University of London, researchers analyzed the progress of 14,853 children who were part of the Millennium Cohort Study. The children were born in 2000 and 2001 and the researchers followed them to age five years. At that age, the children’s cognitive development was evaluated through tests for vocabulary, spatial reasoning, and pictures and compared with results of assessments performed years earlier.


The study’s authors found that babies who failed to reach key developmental milestones at nine months, such as crawling, sitting unaided, standing and taking their first walking steps, and holding objects with their fingers, had learning and behavior problems at age five. In a related study conducted with children in the Millennium Cohort Study, investigators discovered that children who had someone read to them every day were more likely to do very well in a wide range of subjects by age five.

The findings of the developmental study point out the importance of screening children younger than one year for developmental delays. Ingrid Schoon, professor of human development and social policy at the Institute and head of the study, noted that developmental evaluations of young children can “create a profile of a child’s strengths and weaknesses in all developmental areas,” which will then allow professionals to work with parents to determine if the child needs early intervention services.

The first nine months of a child’s life is a time of learning and exploring, for both the child and the parents. For parents and caregivers, it is also a time to have an understanding of and to observe a child’s development and seek screening for developmental delays that may have a significant impact on learning and behavior in the future when the child begins school.

University of London Institute of Education news release, Feb. 16, 2010
University of Michigan Health System