When young children are slower to develop physical, emotional, social and communication skills than expected, it’s called developmental delay.
Developmental delay can show up in the way children move, communicate, think and learn, or behave with others. When more than one of these areas is affected, it might be called global developmental delay.
Developmental delay might be short term, or it might be the first sign of a long-term problem.
Long-term developmental delays are also called developmental disabilities. Examples include learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder.
Every child develops differently, and there’s a big range of ‘normal’ in children’s development.
But as a general guide, you might be concerned about developmental delay if you notice that, over several months, your child isn’t developing motor, social or language skills at the same rate as other children the same age.
Your GP, child and family health nurse or paediatrician can help if you think your child might have developmental delay, or your child has a developmental delay diagnosis. The following professionals can also help:
Like other children, children with developmental delay keep learning. But they take longer to develop new skills, and they might learn in slightly different ways from other children.
For example, most children can learn skills quickly and by example. But children with developmental delay might need to be shown skills in smaller, simpler steps. They might also need more time and opportunities to practise skills.
At preschool or school, your child might need extra support to do well. It’s always a good idea to talk with preschools and schools about your child’s needs. And if your child has a disability diagnosis, you might be able to get funding and other school support.
Lots of different things can cause children to develop more slowly than others.
Developmental delay might happen because of genetic conditions like Down syndrome or because of complications during pregnancy and birth, like premature birth.
Other causes for short-term delays include physical illness, long periods in hospital, and family stress.
In many cases, the cause of developmental delay isn’t known.
Does your child have difficulties with day-to-day activities at home, school, or in the community? Do they experience challenges that do not affect most typically developing children? If so, an occupational therapist may be able to help your child.
Occupational therapy is a treatment that supports a child and their family when they experience difficulties in the areas outlined below.
Developmental delay means that a child is behind in developing skills that are common during a particular age or during a particular time period. A developmental delay, however is more than being a little behind other children in a skill; it is being behind in a combination of skills or not meeting development milestones. These are examples of developmental delays:
Fine motor skills are small movements made with fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue, like holding a small object or picking up a spoon. If your child is struggling with fine motor skills, they may have difficulty with one of these actions:
Gross motor skills help us move and coordinate our arms, legs, and other body parts. They involve larger muscles that help us control our body. A child who is behind in movement, strength, and/or balance may appear clumsy or uncoordinated. They may also have difficulty with these things:
Their muscle tone, or muscle tension and resistance, could be higher or lower than the appropriate developmental milestone. They might also:
Visual processing is the process we use to make sense of what we see. It is a process in our brain that interprets visual information. If your child has difficulty with one of these things, they may have difficult with visual processing:
Oral motor or oral sensory skills are control of muscle movements in the face and oral area, such as the lips, jaw, tongue, and soft palate. Delayed oral motor and sensory skills can show in one or more of these ways:
Sensory processing is making sense of information that we receive through our senses, like sound and smell. Your child may be oversensitive to things around them and show the following symptoms:
Social interaction skills are skills that help us have relationships and understand those around us. They help us bond with other people in our life. Your child may have delayed social skills if they show some of the following things:
Learning challenges, sometimes called learning disabilities, are another type of developmental delay. If your child is challenged by one of the following, you may want to consult an occupational therapist:
Play skills are skills that can help a child make sense of the world around them. A child can gain self-confidence, learn problem solving, and develop social skills through play. Your child may be developmentally delayed if they show one of the following symptoms:
Remember that all children are different and develop these skill sets at their own pace. However, if you think your child may be struggling with adopting some of the skill areas above, you can contact an occupational therapist.
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