Top things to know about Developmental Delay

The first three years of a child’s life are among their most rewarding for parents, with markers of developments and cognition reached at regular intervals and with incredible progress in between each step. But what happens when a child starts to slip, missing important targets or appearing underdeveloped in comparison to their peers? Children often develop at their own pace, but if they start to seriously lag behind, it may be a sign of developmental delay.

What is Developmental Delay?

Developmental delay (or Global Developmental Delay, GDD) is a catch-all term used to describe a variety of different circumstances where a child misses important milestones in their development. For example if they are unable to lift their head on their own after 3 months or are unable to say any words after 18 months to two years.

If you are concerned your child may be behind, you should contact your paediatrician or GP, and check this list of developmental milestones. Your doctor may refer you to a specialists to conduct tests, if it does appear that the delay is not just temporary then your child will be diagnosed with Developmental Delay.

Symptoms of Developmental Delay

As Developmental Disorder refers to a variety of conditions and is not just one disorder, there are not just one set of symptoms that we can refer to. Usually GDD is split into four types, each with a specific set of missed milestones and symptoms. There are:

  1. Fine & Gross Motor Skills
  2. Speech & Language
  3. Cognitive Skills
  4. Social & Emotional Growth

Fine & Gross Motor Skills Symptoms

A child’s physical movements are measured as ‘motor skills’. ‘Fine’ motor skills are the delicate, small movements such as drawing, using toys or eating. ‘Gross’ motor skills are the more crude motions such as running, climbing, or throwing. If your child is having trouble sitting or standing up, has stiff arms & legs, or has involuntary reflexes over voluntary motions then you should talk to a medical professional.

Speech & Language Symptoms

Children develop language at different rates, but the stage where they will start to show the most development is between 9-24 months. By this stage, they should be able to speak basic words and then sentences, have a good understanding of routine and short instructions. They will also start to develop a love of nursery rhymes! Children that struggle to meet these should meet with a speech or language therapist to determine if they just need some help or suffer from GDD.

Cognitive Skills Symptoms

Cognitive skills refers to the ability to learn, think and problem solve. By the age of 18 months, most children should be starting to understand the wold around them, able to know what ordinary things are for such as a comb, fork, cup or crayon. They should also be able to identify their own body parts like their nose or ears.

Social & Emotional Development Symptoms

Human beings are evolved to be intensely social and emotional creatures, traits which are crucial to the development of our society and that start to develop in childhood. During the early years, children start to exhibit behaviour that indicates a normal social & emotional development, such as responding to their names, playing with other children, cuddling and physical interaction with other children, and development of routine. If your child struggles with these it may also be a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ADD). Contact your GP if you are concerned about the social growth of your child.

Causes of Developmental Delay

Because GDD is not one specific condition, the causes are varied and difficult to pin down. Each different type of condition could have a different source, but there are several common causes that could apply.

These are genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome or Fragile X, infections such as meningitis & encephalitis or metabolic diseases. Problems in child development can also be caused by the use of toxic substances in pregnancy such as fetal alcohol syndrome.

However for many children there can be no apparent cause. Clinical trials and other research are needed to investigate the causes to help our understanding of Developmental Delay.

Treatments for Developmental Delay

Firstly, it is important to note that not all development delay is permanent or needs treatment. Some children who are lagging behind may catch up in their own time and will feel no ill-effects in the long run from their delay.

If you are worried about your child, you should speak to a paediatrician or GP and they should undergo tests to ensure they have a medical condition that can and should be treated. They will determine the best treatment for the specific problem your child is having.

Can a Child With Developmental Delay Catch Up?

Yes, a child with a treatable or non-permanent delay may be able to catch up with other children of their age group, given time. If a problem is caught early and the proper treatment administered, even children with more permanent conditions can improve and reach a level where they can have a more normal life. Speech therapists, paediatricians and child psychiatrists are always working hard to help improve the outcomes for children that lag behind.

Specialists in Developmental Delay Treatments

Our team are specialists in child cognitive health and experts at the treatment of Developmental Disorder. We are located across the UK, in London, Guildford, Birmingham and Essex. We also have a center in Fairfax, USA. Get in touch if you want to find out more information about the testing or treatment of GDD.