Understanding Developmental Delays in Children

As children grow and develop, they learn different skills like smiling for the first time, taking their first step or waving goodbye. These skills are referred to as developmental milestones.

Children don't have a strict timetable on when they'll develop these skills. For instance, some babies may start to walk as early as nine months, while others might not take their first step until they're 15 months old. Both, however, are within the typical developmental range. And small differences in when children learn a skill aren't usually a cause of concern.

But, a developmental delay isn't just being "a little behind" or "slower to develop." It means a child is continually behind in skills other children his age have.

Categories of Developmental Skills

Developmental milestones fall under five primary groups.

There are five main groups of skills that make up the developmental milestones. A child may have a developmental delay in one or more of these areas:

  • Fine motor
  • Gross motor
  • Cognitive
  • Language
  • Social

Pediatricians will call it a developmental delay when a child doesn't reach one or many of the milestones among these groups.

Discovering Development Delays

In younger children, delays can be the first sign of an attention,  learning, or sensory processing disorder. For instance, language and speech delays could indicate a communication disorder or a learning issue.

It's not always simple to make an association between developmental delays and attention and learning disorders until the child starts school. That's usually when the teacher can see how they're doing in areas like reading, math and spelling. They can also see how well the child is focusing in class.

The school can perform their own formal testing to determine a child's strengths and weaknesses. These tests help compare the skills of children to those of their peers. The tests also show how children think and solve problems. The test results can help make the determination of whether the child has an attention or learning issue.

A doctor will use strict guidelines to make a diagnosis of a developmental delay. But, the parent is usually the first to notice if their child isn't progressing as others of the same age. If you suspect your child is behind or might be slow, speak with the pediatrician.

In some cases, the doctor can pick up a delay during the child's appointment. It will likely take a few visits to determine if it's really a delay or simply a temporary lag. The pediatrician will have their own set of screening tools they may use during regular well-care appointments. If they suspect a developmental delay, refer your child to a pediatric occupational therapist.

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