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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 6, Lesson 1

Newborn and Infant Development

This section provides a brief review of newborn development. For more information on developmental domains (streams) please refer to Module 1 of the ITDS series.

There are several conceptualized domains (streams) of development: cognitive, motor, self-help or adaptive, communication and social-emotional. All domains interact and a problem in one area influences the development in another area. As an example, a child with Down syndrome could have delays in cognition that may also be manifested in difficulties related to self-help tasks. There may also be issues with communication because of the delay in cognitive skills. This will also impact the child's attainment of social milestones. In addition, deficits in hearing and vision can further delay development if left untreated.

Skill Areas

baby girl crawlingMotor: Motor skills are largely reflexive at birth. The presence of primitive reflexes (involuntary movements that are governed by the brain stem), indicate an intact neurological system. Reflexes are integrated to become protective responses as the infant matures. The maturing infant also demonstrates more consistent voluntary control of their movements and their primitive reflexes are usually integrated by around six (6) months of age.

Social: Most newborns have social skills that show the ability to sustain attention. However, there are innate differences in temperament of the newborn that affects the infant's ability to maintain attention.

Self-Help: Initially, the newborn is completely dependent on its caregivers for survival and support. The development of personal/self-help skills begins with the ability to organize sleep and eating patterns. This is followed by an increasing complexity of eating skills, dressing skills, and other more complex self-help behaviors during later stages of development.

Cognition: A newborn's cognitive skills are also initially reflexive and are limited because voluntary motor control does not allow for the demonstration of problem solving. The main skills present at this time are manifested in visual attention and eye movements. Newborns learn first to recognize their mother's voice and then other caregivers. They begin to develop more control of their facial muscles including the control of eye movements and they learn to smile in a social manner. The ITDS can alert the parent to recognize the "quiet alert" state of an infant and to use these times to encourage interactions that support this developmental stage.

Communication: The newborn's language is primitive, but it is reciprocal in response to an adult caregiver. It can include reciprocal patterns of grimaces and sounds.

Sensory Areas: Sensory capabilities at birth show that newborns are legally blind by definition. They can usually only see one to two feet or the distance from their mother's face to her breast or arms. Visual acuity is estimated to be in a range of 20/800 to 20/150. The newborn seems to discriminate colors and shows a preference for patterns.

Hearing in typically developing infants is present, but the response to sounds is not localized. They will become quiet and more alert when spoken to in a soft voice. There will be changes in their heart and respiratory rates if the environment is noisy and chaotic. Some infants are so sensitive to loud or aversive noises that they become easily disorganized and begin crying.

Taste and smell are felt to arise from smelling and tasting the amniotic fluid, however, these capabilities are harder to assess.


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