What is Developmental Delay?

Developmental delay refers to the delay in the development of a child as normally expected at his/her age. This delay in development may be seen in one or more areas. The areas where a child may show developmental delay include speech and language, gross/fine motor activities, thinking and understanding skills, social and emotional development.

When a child shows delayed development in a majority of or in all of the areas mentioned above, it is referred to as global developmental delay. The first three years of a child's life are crucial to development. Every child develops at his/her own pace. However, there are average time periods by when a child is expected to achieve certain milestones. When a child is not able to achieve these developmental milestones within the time period expected at his/her age, he is said to show developmental delay.

What Causes Developmental Delay?

The exact cause of developmental delay in a child may be hard to pin point, but among the many reasons for developmental delay, the major ones are premature birth, complications during pregnancy, genetic disorders like Down's syndrome or loss of hearing. Developmental delay can also be a symptom of autism spectrum disorders.

Most children develop skills like walking, talking during the normal time period without any issues. However, some children don't attain these skills at the appropriate age. For example, some children learn how to walk well after their second birthday. When this happens, it may be a sign of developmental delay. The term developmental delay refers to when a child does not achieve developmental milestones within the normal age range. Simply put, it is a delay in a child's development.

Having a developmental delay is not the same thing as having a developmental disability, though it is possible for a developmental delay to develop into a developmental disability if left untreated.

Types of Developmental Delays

There are four main types of developmental delays in children. The symptoms depend on the type of developmental delay that is present. A child may experience developmental delays in one or more of the following areas:

  • Language or speech delays: This includes the ability to communicate with other people effectively, express and receive information and to form sentences. Symptoms of speech and language delays include:

  • At age 2 or older, a child cannot use spoken language to express anything other than immediate needs
  • At age 4 or older, a child whose spoken language is hard to understand
  • At age 1, a child who does not use gestures such as waving or pointing
  • Difficulty imitating sounds at 18 months of age

  • Motor delays: This includes the ability to balance, walk, and use your hands and fingers, and hand-eye coordination. Symptoms of motor delays include:

  • Trouble putting puzzles or toys together
  • Inability to walk, sit, stand, or crawl at the appropriate age
  • Extreme reactions to pain, being touched, or textures

  • Social and emotional delays: This includes the ability to have meaningful relationships with others, interact with others, and be able to pick up on social cues. Symptoms of social and emotional delays include:

  • Displaying play skills that are inappropriate for the child's age; for example, a 10-year-old who kicks other children when he wants to play a different game
  • Having trouble reading social cues, such as a 7-year-old who becomes physically aggressive whenever another child approaches her from behind, because she views it as a threat
  • Trouble regulating emotions, or becoming easily upset

  • Cognitive delays: This category includes thinking skills, learning, reasoning, and memory. Symptoms of cognitive delays include:

  • A child over age 2 who is unable to follow simple instructions
  • A child over age 2 who is not able to imitate actions or speech
  • A child over age 1 who does not search for objects that are hidden as the child watches
  • It is possible for a child to have developmental delays in all or most of these areas. When this occurs, it is referred to as global developmental delay.

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