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. Furthermore, a developmental disability is a long-term issue, while a developmental delay may improve with intervention and can disappear altogether once the child catches-up in his or her development.

Types of Developmental Delays and Symptoms

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 such as instructions on how to complete an assignment, 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 being 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. Global developmental delay is often caused by a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome; fetal alcohol syndrome; fragile X syndrome, which is an inherited cognitive impairment; or by severe medical problems that develop soon after a child is born which are associated with premature birth.