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When a child doesn't walk by the time he's 18 months old, it is considered a delayed walking. Delay doesn't necessarily mean that something is wrong, but there are possible underlying reasons and diseases that have to be ruled out by a professional.

As parents, we know our children best and most of us have a hunch when something is wrong. If a toddler is not meeting developmental milestones including learning and moving around, it's important to react in time and consult a doctor, but most of the developmental milestones are due to baby's temperament and environmental factors such as laziness, too much pampering, and a baby walker overuse.

If you suspect your toddler's delayed walking skills are caused by an illness, don't hesitate to contact your pediatrician.  Here's a list of some common diseases that may lead to delays in walking.

1. Muscular dystrophy

A muscular dystrophy is a large group of disorders that result in muscle mass loss and progressive weakness of the entire body. In this group of diseases, gene mutations affect the production of proteins much needed to form healthy muscles. Walking delay is one of the earliest indicators of a devastating disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy [1].

A trained professional can detect developmental delays early on, so it's important to get regular pediatric checkups in the child's early age.

If you suspect that your toddler has a walking or any other developmental delay, you can check the tool developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics in collaboration with the CDC. Of course, this tool is only there as a conversation-starter with your pediatrician, don't rely solely on it. [2

2. Hypotonia

Also known as floppy baby syndrome, hypothonia can be the cause for delayed walking in some children. The condition is characterized by low muscle tone and overall body weakness. Hypotonia is not a disease, rather condition that is often caused by some underlying disease such as Noonan syndrome, velocardiofacial syndrome (VCFS), or cerebral palsy, among others [3].  

Hypotonia is challenging for medical workers because it can be the result of both benign and serious conditions [4].

3. Rickets

Rickets is a disease characterized by imperfect calcification and distortion of the bones caused by vitamin D deficiency, mostly affecting children. Softening of the bones typically results in bow legs, which makes walking even harder. Rickets can lead to permanent deformities of the bones if left untreated. [5]

A study conducted on 42 non-walking toddlers showed that the delay was caused by rickets in 25 of them, which is a whopping 60 percent of children. Luckily, the condition is treatable and most children start walking between two and five months after they receive the appropriate treatment. [6]

4. Down syndrome

Some toddlers with this disease have good muscle tone and coordination and don’t have a bigger delay when it comes to learning to walk, but others may find conquering this milestone more challenging and learn to walk between the ages of three and six. According to studies, only around 10 percent of children with Down syndrome are able to walk under 3 years of age. [7]

5. Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is caused by brain malformations that occur either before, during, or after birth. Brain damage is a cause for weak muscle control, tone and coordination, bad balance and posture, and delays within many aspects of childhood development.

Non-serious and common reasons for delayed walking

Walking is one of the most memorable developmental milestones and most children will acquire this ability somewhere around the age of 14 months [8].

If the child is not walking by the time he's 18 months old, the walking is considered delayed. This generally shouldn't cause concern, but there is often a reason behind the delay. Majority of walking delays are caused by the child’s temperament and how she’s being treated at home, and have nothing to do with the scary diseases listed above.

When a non-walking 18-month-old child was brought to observation, the experts ruled out all the possible medical reasons and the child eventually walked on his own at 20 months of age. [9]

  • Temperament —  Not all children are same. Some of them are perfectly content lying around, crawling and playing while sitting on the floor, while others can't wait to learn how to move around by themselves and make a mess. This is about a baby's natural temperament. If she seems happy by taking her time and lazing around, just let her.
  • Recent illness — If a child's been sick recently and the family's focus was on giving medications and providing rest, then walking was put in another plan. This is perfectly fine, the child has to be completely heathy and fresh for new adventures.
  • Excess pampering — Avoid caring a child everywhere or passing any toy or item around the house that he asks for. Let him work for it! A toddler who spends too much time in a baby walker, who's being carried everywhere, and given all that she asks for is not given a chance to be mobile. In this case, a child's delayed walking skills may be partly parents' fault.

If the child is healthy, the time of the first steps is of little consequence, according to science. Early walkers showed to be neither more intelligent, not better coordinated later throughout the life. [10]

Encourage your child to move around the house as much as possible. Even though there are many possible reasons for delayed walking in toddlers, it's usually nothing serious that can't be overcome with love and support.

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