Recognizing Developmental Delays In Children

Watching your child grow and become more independent is one of the most delightful parts of raising them. From taking their first steps to saying their first words to learning how to feed themselves, they’re constantly hitting new milestones. But it can be a little worrisome when you notice that your child is not on par with similar-aged peers. You may be left wondering if they’re still on track or if you’ll need to seek professional help for possible developmental delays in children.

Child growth does not come with a fixed timeline. There is a wide range of ages that are considered “normal” for learning different skills. For instance, some children start walking by nine months, while others are taking their first steps closer to 15 months or later. Most kids are somewhere in the middle – and that is perfectly okay.  Professional therapists will assure you that children develop at their own pace. While there are indeed warning signs of developmental delay, every child is different and grows uniquely.

What Do Developmental Delays In Children Look Like?

Developmental delays in children are not the same as lagging behind one’s peers. One marker of delay is a lag of at least 25 percent in one or more areas of development. For instance, if your child isn’t starting to crawl or grasp objects, or if they aren’t babbling or trying to say simple words. A basic child development chart can help you identify common milestones and ages around which they typically occur. It is estimated that four percent of children are affected by a developmental delay between the ages of two and 11, but around two percent have overcome these delays by the time they are six to 11, especially with appropriate interventions.

Areas of Developmental Delays

Developmental delays in children are not limited to one specific area of growth. They can occur in many different facets of a child’s function, from communication to physical abilities to emotional expression. Typically, children have a deficit in more than one area before they are diagnosed with a delay.

Speech and Language

This spans everything from your baby starting to coo and make sounds, to toddlers babbling and repeating words, to older children forming sentences and using words correctly. It also includes being able to understand the words being said to them, such as when asking them to get an object or do a task.


Cognitive skills include the child’s ability to observe the world around them – touching things, following objects with their eyes, and learning to recognize colors or patterns. It is their ability to problem solve and learn new skills.

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are big movements such as rolling over, crawling, or walking. Fine motor skills are more detailed such as grasping a crayon, manipulating a shape to fit in a hole, or holding a spoon. In older children, delays in fine motor skills could contribute to a writing disability because they have trouble correctly holding a pencil or staying in the lines. Motor skills therapy can be essential in helping children function and move more effectively.

Social and Emotional

Does your baby smile when you talk to him or her? Does she mimic the sounds you make? Does your toddler ask for help or show you when he’s excited or frustrated? These are all signs of social and emotional growth. Learning how to play and interact with others is included too.

Daily Life

Life skills can be an area of delay too. The ability to dress themselves, feed themselves, or wash their hands on their own are all independent life skills children develop as they get older.

Possible Causes of Developmental Delay

There isn’t one single cause of developmental delays in children. They can be attributed to a variety of factors.

Birth Complications

Being born prematurely is a major risk factor because babies’ brains, lungs, and bodies are underdeveloped. Not getting enough oxygen can also contribute to lagging behind in meeting child development milestones.

Exposure to Environmental Issues

The environment surrounding your child can also affect their development. For instance, if their diet is lacking proper nutrition, they were exposed to substance misuse while in utero, or they experience trauma after birth, it can complicate their growth.

Other Specific Medical Complications

Children with other health conditions such as chronic ear infections, illness, injury, vision problems, or other challenges may lag behind in child development. Sometimes these issues can be corrected – such as getting tubes in their ears or eyeglasses – which can allow them to make significant gains and overcome delays.

What You Can Do to Help

The Importance of Early Detection

Recognizing signs of developmental delays in children enables you to be proactive in supporting your child and getting them early intervention services if needed. A professional therapist can conduct a child observation, ask questions, and complete evaluations to monitor your child’s development and note any areas of concern. This can allow you to get your child the help they need more quickly to address problems.

The Right Treatment for the Area(s) of Delay

Therapeutic services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy can help your child to build and improve their skills so they meet common milestones. An early childhood intervention program can be exactly what they need to overcome challenges and get support to strengthen muscles, coordinate movements, express themselves to the best of their ability. An estimated 400,000 children between the ages of three and nine receive intervention services to address development delays.

Meeting child development milestones happens at different ages for different children, but if you’re concerned your child may be falling behind, listen to your gut instinct. You know your child best. Professional therapists can evaluate your child to identify areas of concern and recommend appropriate therapies to help. Therapeutic Movements provides occupational and physical therapy to children of all ages and works with those who have developmental delays to help them overcome challenges and thrive.


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