Milestones or Smilestones?


Milestones are the developmental steps that tell us what our children should be doing and at what ages, but for those with children who don’t follow the norm they can be the stuff of parent nightmares. So do we really need them?

I have always had my communication milestones handy for reference when meeting a family for the first time. I have used them as a quick guide for first impressions or as an education tool for parents. Methods change over time and there has been debate in the early childhood professional community as to the value of milestones in practice, particular for the neurodiverse community.

I have fallen in love with the wonderful ladies of the Too Peas in a Podcast and their book “The Invisible Life of Us”. I think I have learnt more about relating with parents and families through them, then I did throughout my degree. I read with a heavy heart and a fair amount of guilt their experience of encountering milestones and the pain that it caused when comparing their children with the ‘norm’. They instead decided to measure their own unique experiences and beautiful moments of connection and called them “smilestones” (Jones & Hose, 2021). I absolutely love this term, and how it reminds us that we must look at the whole person, their environment and life experience, in our assessment, not just what boxes they tick.

Milestones can be confronting, and some say of limited use if they are based on old data and outdated views on development. Not all children follow a typical developmental pattern and it’s important to keep our focus on how a child functions, such as can they to access the environment and are they able communicate their needs? (The informed SLP 2022) 

So why have I included milestones in my online course “Small Steps to Big Language”? I debated their inclusion and returned to the research as well as my own clinical experience. I know that parents are often told the old myths of ‘wait and see’, ‘boys develop slower than girls’ or ‘they’ll catch up”. This results in parents waiting extraordinary amounts of time to access an assessment and then therapy, particularly in rural areas. Milestones are a tool in the toolbox to monitor how speech and language grows and develops. Recognizing any communication delays early means that we can work with your child at the optimal time. (Clark et al, 2021)

I don’t want parents to panic, feel guilty or become distressed if they are looking at milestones and feel their child isn’t matching typical development. I want parents to have good quality information, make informed decisions, find help in a timely manner and feel empowered to implement strategies in their everyday lives. You can’t measure your child’s wellbeing, unique personality, or potential for growth on a checklist, but you can act and find the help you need if you have concerns. Both milestones and smilestones have their place in our thinking and planning.