Feeling like your child is not meeting their developmental milestones when it comes to walking is concerning for any parent - and leaves
many wondering whether there could be any underlying issues at play that need to be addressed, monitored or treated. If you’re
concerned about your child’s walking - whether there is a delay in walking, or whether the walking appears abnormal or clumsy, our
podiatrists are here to help.
While many of us will know children who started walking as early as 9 months old, according to the Australian Early Years National Framework, walking, climbing and running should be achieved between ages 1 and 2. Earlier than this, at the 8-12 month mark, children are only expected to pull themselves to standing when holding onto furniture or hands, as well as display mature (quick and fluent) crawling in order to meet their developmental milestones.
Generally, we tend to see the majority of children achieve walking between 11 and 18 months of age. If your child is not walking from 18 months, and especially if you notice delays in other physical developmental milestones, we recommend bringing them in for an assessment with our team to rule out certain issues like neurological problems, problems with alignment in the lower limbs, and problems with muscle strength or flexibility.
Causes of delayed walking can greatly vary - and in some cases, it may be a simple matter of a child’s motor skills naturally maturing a bit later, and still following a fairly normal pattern of development otherwise. Some children may also have no desire to walk, don’t feel confident doing so, or feel no need to walk if they are used to being carried.
Generally, delays can fall into categories of physical, mental and health-related causes, with examples including:
If your child is happy, developing normally, but simply hasn’t started walking by 18 months, there may be no need for concern - some kids do just start walking at a later age such as around 2 years old, much like how some children take a little longer to start talking and forming sentences. If you notice a delay in other milestones, your child shows no interest in trying to pull themselves up or cruise along the furniture at the 12-18 month mark, or your child still isn’t walking after two years of age, then it’s always a good idea to get them assessed.
The biggest risk of not having delayed walking assessed is missing any underlying issues such as hypotonia, learning difficulties and other issues that can be addressed through physical therapy, and therefore delaying their treatment. If treatment can help but is delayed, it can lead to further delays than if it had been addressed earlier, especially in the years where children love to be social and run, climb and explore in parks and with their friends.
If you’re ever concerned or have a gut feeling that something isn’t quite right - have your child assessed. As parents, it can also feel like a big relief to have a health professional confirm that nothing serious is at play - or if something is detected, to be able to take prompt and early action.
The level of treatment or intervention is very much dependent on the cause of your child’s walking delay. If they’re still meeting other developmental milestones and are otherwise healthy but show little interest in walking, a ‘wait and see’ approach may be recommended.
While you’re at home, through the early months, encouraging tummy time can help to strengthen a baby’s core muscles, help develop their neck, arm, and leg muscles, and help prepare them for crawling, cruising along the furniture, and eventually walking. It’s also important to provide ample opportunities for walking - instead of constantly carrying them, bringing toys to them, or sitting them in a walker device, try sitting them up and placing objects just out of their reach to help give them more motivation and confidence to explore their surroundings through movement.
Once your child reaches the 8-12 month mark, you can also help them to practice standing while holding onto you or the furniture - they’ll need to develop not only muscle strength in their legs but also their balance, which can take some time and requires lots of practice!
As podiatrists, we work extensively with babies, toddlers and children in all aspects of their foot and leg care - from supporting them in their working journey to addressing potential issues like toe walking, in-toeing, out-toeing, knock knees, bowed legs, growing pains and all sorts of bumps and lumps on the feet.
When it comes to investigating walking delays, we conduct a thorough assessment of the feet and lower legs to see what identifiable issues, if any, could be contributing to the delayed walking. Specifically, we’ll look for abnormalities in foot structure, muscle weakness or tightness, and various other factors.
Depending on what we find, we may recommend options like physical therapy to improve muscle strength and coordination, using splints or braces to support walking, and make timely referrals to other health specialties to get involved for either further assessment - like a neurological assessment - or other care services like physiotherapy.
We understand how concerning developmental delays and walking problems can be for parents, who just want to be doing everything they can to help support their child’s growth and development. We take every concern very seriously, taking the time to discuss every aspect and all of your treatment options.
Do autistic children have delayed walking?
Autistic children may or may not have delayed walking, as the developmental timeline can vary greatly from child to child. Some children with autism may achieve developmental milestones like walking earlier than expected, while others may experience delays. Research suggests that delayed walking is more common among children with autism than in typically developing children, although it is not a definitive characteristic of autism. A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that children with autism were more likely to experience gross motor delays, which can include delayed walking, crawling, and sitting up.
Can a podiatrist help with delayed walking?
Depending on the cause of the walking delay, yes, podiatrists are an important part of the management team for walking delays. Where the needs of the child extend beyond podiatry, your podiatrist will always refer you appropriately to ensure your child is receiving the best care and attention.