I’m sorry, but development charts are for girls

I have been waiting for the right time to write this post. In the back of my mind, for the last year or so, I have had this feeling that baby development charts are for girls rather than for boys… and now, as my little girl turns two, I am more convinced than ever.

For the record, let me state that I have three boys, right in a row (5, 4, 3yrs), who are all very intelligent. They are very different from each other, too, and some developed ahead in areas where their siblings were behind, and vice versa. This is post is not about stereotyping or maligning boys. I love them, and they are very, very special.

But when my little girl arrived on the scene (last), I began to notice that observing her development was a different experience entirely than my boys’. Even my husband noticed, and he normally has no eye for these types of things. We mainly noticed that she needed hardly any “education” that our boys needed… just magically, she developed on her own, usually right on or before the standard developmental landmarks. Mere exposure seemed enough to teach her things.  And she picked up vocabulary easily, like with one use of the word. We didn’t have to have little lessons with her, or teach her to talk, teach her to use her imagination, or teach her social/independent skills like how to come get Mommy when there was a problem. With little siblings to watch, she just picked them right up. Her language comprehension seemed way ahead, and she was able to follow one -step then two-step directions very early. She was even ahead (by months) in the physical timetable, walking by 10months etc. We didn’t have one worry about her development, and every time we checked in with her doctor, or we consulted a book, she was right on time.

This was just not the case with my boys, whom we worried over continually, at least in isolated areas. Even with my third son who had siblings to watch, there were still things to teach, to make sure he got, to clarify. Each boy had areas where we felt like we were constantly trying to make sure didn’t decline when we weren’t looking: with one boy, it was language; with another it was gross motor skills; with another, it was independence.  And the charts, with their icons like “two words put together at two years old, three words put together at three…” were absolutely no help; I never saw that with anyone.  We were very diligent about making sure we had educational toys, videos, and ways of interacting. And it wasn’t all for naught, nor was it bad! It was just different: my little girl needed almost nothing to thrive.

Now that my little boys are slightly older, and stronger in their initially-weak areas, I realize that the developmental charts caused more panic than necessary.Their development, as male, was simply different than female. My girl was essentially learning through relationship, imitation, communication, and observation.  And she learns while multi-tasking (i.e. wants to sit in your lap, hug a bear, read a book, and have a movie on, talk to you, all at the same time).  My boys essentially learn individualistically, through personal practice, by analysis, and order/sequence/rules.  They process one thing at a time, not unlike my husband who can’t talk with the radio on, and do well with systems, routines, structures.   My boys, even at 1 and 2yrs, had all kinds of skills not on the charts, especially in their strong areas, but were spotty in all kinds of areas for their first four years.  And their verbal development is very different in nature than my girl’s, even though I had one early talking boy who is still very insightful verbally.  I can see why it was harder for them to excel in some areas because they are more “in their own little worlds” than my girl is. They are also more singularly-talented instead of well-rounded, and personality-typed/consistent.  Socially, they have higher walls to climb, and more carefully constructed inroads, than my little girl.

In fact, when reading special needs literature, I realized there was a careful (but important) boundary in describing the qualities of special needs children from just boys in general!! Many of the descriptions, especially in the areas of language and social skills, sounded like my boys at times; never about my girl. I believe this is why boys are so much more likely to be classified as autism spectrum or developmentally delayed. I am certain this is why so many boys end up in special ed preschool, compared to girls.   They are more likely to be one-sided in development, harder to engage, and/or harder to teach.

So my conclusion, after six years of raising three little boys, and two years of raising my girl, is that we have to be careful not to pathologize our boys. They may be slower to mature than girls (at least, comprehensively) or in some way more delicate, more susceptible to autism and other disorders. But this should call us to perhaps reverse the de-genderizing trend of the world and re-discuss any patterns that are inherent to male development, versus female. Of course we don’t want to confuse personality, gifting, or birth order with gender. We don’t want to say girls can’t be aggressive or boys can’t be verbal.  They can be!  But the human world observes gender differences that the Academy seems adversed to.  I  would be interested in seeing if there is correlation of gender to learning style or processing style. And seeing if there are timetables that are more relevant to boys as opposed to girls, just as height and weight charts have long documented. Perhaps there will not be, and I will be proven wrong. But perhaps there will be, and the mothers of boys in future generations can be spared much anxiety as they have charts and milestones that accurately represent their sons.


6 thoughts on “I’m sorry, but development charts are for girls

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. My son is four and has almost identical language challenges to your first son. Our experience and worries have been almost identical to yours. As he matures, I am starting to feel more and more confident that he will be just fine. I now have a four month old girl and can already see the differences that you post about. I agree that we need to recognize the vast differences in development between males and females. I think people are afraid by admitting that there are differences is somehow saying that one sex is inferior to the other. Everyone is so hyper-sensitive these days. Different is just that, not better or worse, just different, and the sooner we accept that, the less us moms of boys will have to spend the first five years of their lives on eggshells!

  2. I also enjoyed this post. My son is 2 and is not testing appropriately on the charts. I know that he will catch up, due to reading this blog and hearing stories from other mom’s with children with mixed receptive/expressive disorder. The things that he can do, aren’t on the charts. He knows his alphabet both upper and lower case, blends letters to spell words, etc. He obviously has strengths and weaknesses, and they don’t match the charts. We have A LOT of work ahead, but I know things will be ok. I sent this link to a friend of mine who has 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls. The 2 boys have been through the special ed preschool for speech and her oldest boy is now the #1 reader in his kindergarten class. Her girls…talk constantly, and her youngest girl’s first word was “Sponge Bob Square Pants”! Learning differences in the same family…just different genders.

  3. It’s SO, SO good to read this. I’ve wondered about this a lot, especially since my friends all have girls and I have the only boy. He’s less social, more internal, talking much later than all of them. Maybe he’s just a boy?? I wonder if we are pathologising our boys. It’s so hard thinking there’s something wrong when everyone I talk to who raised boys says not to worry – their boys started talking between 18-24 months! All that worry is so misplaced. Can’t we just love and teach them?

  4. Amen!! Oh my goodness, I completely agree with this post. I have a 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter, and from my experience as their mom, I have found everything you said to be true! My son’s language development has been progressing slowly, but strengths are amazing … they’re just not measured on any charts! My daughter, on the other hand, is the one who has met every milestone right on time, or even a couple months early! Yes, development charts are for girls. This article has reassured me a great deal that my instincts are correct: my son is fine. He is just a boy!

  5. Thank YOU!!!! I am a new mom. My son is 2 1/2 and speaks a few words. I have been crying my eyes out at times because everyone has labeled him autistic. I see his intelligences in other ways. He understands most of what we ask him to do, both in English and Spanish, and was advanced in his motor skills. His only obstacle has been his speech. He just doesn’t want to talk. Thank you all for your comments because I felt helpless and now I have the confidence to enjoy my little guy and stop caring about what other children do or don’t do.

  6. Pingback: the ennema family » on some boys and developmental milestones

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