My baby walked early, will she be a genius?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Sitting in the park, watching my son whoosh back and forth on the swing, I see a baby wobbling his way through the winter sunshine. He is tiny, dressed in yellow, his face decorated in what his father affectionately calls "drool rash".

"How old is he?" I ask. The baby looks much younger than twelve months, eleven months even, but he's well and truly walking. And seems mighty pleased with himself, too.

"Nine months," dad tells me, explaining that his son has been on the move for a couple of weeks now. 

"Wait, so he was eight months when he started walking?" 

"Yep."

"Oh my goodness!" I say to the grinning bubba. "Aren't you a clever boy!" 

"Definitely smart," dad smiles. "Like his mum."

As my ovaries threaten to explode all over the grass, the baby makes a bee-line for my phone.

"Annnd into everything," he laughs.

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While bub toddles around the park we joke about him being an over-achiever - "a genius" - albeit one adorned with a drool-catching bib. 

Later, after we've said goodbye, I reflect on my own son's first steps, taken a couple of days after he turned one. Apart from screaming like I'd just won the lottery and grabbing every recording device I owned, because he hit the milestone pretty much bang on average, I didn't give it much thought. But  watching super baby in the park got me wondering - are early walkers actually more intelligent? 

Well, as it happens, the short answer is no, probably not. 

One study, published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, found that early walkers are neither more intelligent nor more coordinated when they grow up. Researchers from Zurich Children's hospital and Lausanne University tracked the development of over 200 healthy babies, with paediatricians examining the little ones seven times over their first two years. Afterwards, the kids were given motor and IQ tests every two-three years after they reached school age, up until they turned eighteen.

The team found that children who took off earlier were no more intelligent and performed no better on motor tests than those who toddled later. The study also confirmed that there's quite a big range when it comes to the age kids begin to walk. In the group studied, the earliest bubs found their feet at 8.5 months, (like the cute baby in the park), while the latest took off at 20 months. Most took their first steps right around the time they turned one.

The study authors write, "While infant motor development may predict the outcome of children with developmental or neurological risks (e.g. premature born children), in healthy children with an uneventful medical history and no other clinical findings the age of achievement of motor milestones has only limited clinical significance and practical relevance."

Lead author Dr Oskar Jenni said at the time,"That's why I advise parents to be more relaxed if their child only starts walking at 16 or 18 months," adding that if a child still can't walk unassisted after 20 months, then further investigation is warranted.

But the Zurich longitudinal study isn't the only one to reach the conclusion that early walkers aren't (necessarily) baby Einsteins. Another study, published in Clinical pediatrics, found no link between the age a child hit their gross motor milestones and their IQ at age three.

And while your early walker might not be the next Usain Bolt or Serena Williams, this Finnish research did find a "modest" link between hitting the milestone and higher frequency of sports participation at age 14.

So there you have it. If, like cute park baby, your own bub's keeping you on your toes before they've turned one, welcome to the world of child-proofing! But if they're taking their sweet time - well, that's just fine, too.