Developmental milestones provide insight into how children progress with respect to motor skills, communication, cognitive processes, and even emotional intelligence. When and how well children reach these milestones helps doctors and parents measure overall developmental progress through early childhood. Children who do not meet milestones as expected may be at risk for autism, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), or other cognitive and behavioral impairments. But do developmental challenges early in life indicate risk for depression or anxiety? This was the question C. Rebecca North of the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta in Canada recently asked. North wanted to find out if developmental delays of any sort would increase the risk of later anxiety or depression, and also if stress from developmental barriers would contribute to symptoms or future risk. North led a study that looked at psychological evaluations of over 3,500 children in early adolescence and compared those to developmental milestones met in early childhood. She found that the children who had specific delays at age 2-3 had a significantly higher risk of being depressed or anxious at age 12-13. These same children had more behavior problems early in life as well. Cognitive delays had a stronger impact on future symptoms than did motor delays. In particular, children who had difficulty reaching specific communication milestones were more likely develop issues later in life. But those who had impairments to motor skills in early childhood did not exhibit increases in anxiety or depression in adolescence. Another interesting finding was that of self-care and independence. When North looked at self-care developmental milestones, she found that some boys and girls had delays. But these delays were only predictive of later internalization in the boys. North said, “It may be that achievement of independence from caregivers is both culturally and, in turn, psychologically more important for boys.” She believes that perhaps these early developmental delays or achievements could explain many of the gender differences that exist in mental health problems. North hopes that more attention is placed on early childhood milestones and the clues that they can provide to the overall well-being of children through adolescence and beyond. Reference: North, C.R., Wild, T.C., Zwaigenbaum, L., Colman, I. (2013). Early neurodevelopment and self-reported adolescent symptoms of depression and anxiety in a national Canadian cohort study. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56804. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056804
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