If your child is not meeting his or her developmental milestones, such as crawling, walking or talking, he or she may have a developmental delay. These delays are ongoing and can affect only one or multiple areas of your child’s development, such as speech and motor skills. While many babies may be slower to start walking or talking, it is only a developmental delay if the delay continues for months after missing the milestone.
Many things can cause developmental delay, including genetic conditions, environment and trauma. Typically these delays can be addressed with specialized treatment.
Signs of developmental delay vary by age but can include:
- Not responding to sounds
- Not babbling, imitating sounds or using words at appropriate age
- Not reaching for objects
- Not rolling over, crawling or walking at appropriate age
- Not using gestures or pointing
- Not imitating your actions or words
- Unable to support head
- Unable to follow simple instructions as a toddler
You may notice some signs of developmental delay in your child. If you do notice one of these signs, be sure to speak to your child’s pediatrician at his or her well-child visit. If your child begins to lose abilities he or she once had, a medical professional should immediately evaluate him or her.
Your pediatrician may suspect a developmental delay during normal well-baby check-ups and refer you to child development experts for further evaluation. Early intervention is key in developmental delays, helping your child get back on schedule for development and minimizing effects of a delay in the future.
Diagnosis of Developmental Delay
It can be difficult to determine whether a child’s developmental delay is just temporary or if it is a cause for concern. Providers with Riley Child Development at IU Health help parents better understand their child’s abilities and limitations.
During the evaluation, your provider will take an extensive developmental history to find out about any health problems, what is going on in your child’s life and the history of his or her behavior. Your provider will also be observing your child and how they behave and interact during the appointment. You, the caregiver, may be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire or checklist. If needed, your child may be brought back for an appointment to undergo psychological testing, speech testing and/or a medical examination. This testing, often in the form of activities or games, lets your child’s provider identify symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis.
After the evaluation, you will receive a detailed report about your child's specific condition as well as a list of community resources that can help your child. The report allows all caregivers and healthcare professionals who care for your child to apply consistent techniques to help him or her improve.
A variety of treatments can help address developmental delays. Based on your child’s individual needs, the doctor or care team may suggest:
- Physical therapy.If your child’s motor skills are not progressing as expected, physical therapists can help him or her build strength and coordination. Physical therapy helps children walk, reach and perform other movements.
- Occupational therapy.Occupational therapists will help your child build skills related to activities of daily living, such as writing, getting dressed, taking a bath or eating.
- Hearing assistance. Hearing loss can contribute to developmental delays, especially speech. Audiologists can help your child by fitting a hearing aid and working on speech skills.
- Speech therapy.Speech therapists help children with speaking, language or comprehension problems, swallowing or eating problems.
- Vision correction. Poor vision may also cause developmental delays. By getting your child fitted for glasses, he or she may be able to see and move better.
- Special education. Schools are required to offer special education support services to help children overcome delays and keep up with their peers. Your child's school will work with you to develop an individual education plan for your child. Developmental Preschool is offered through the special education departments of public schools for children ages 3 – 5 years.
Key Points to Remember
- Developmental delays are ongoing problems meeting developmental milestones, such as crawling, walking or talking.
- An evaluation from a child development expert can identify delays and give you access to resources to overcome or reduce delays.
- Treatment for developmental delays is personalized to each child but may include physical, occupational and speech therapy as well as special education.
Support Services & Resources
Support Services & Resources
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This Indiana state program helps children ages 3 years old and younger receive services such as counseling, hearing assistance, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
The CDC website includes information on developmental milestones, steps to take if you are concerned about developmental delays and causes of delays.