When Should I Worry About My Child’s Development?

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2021

What are the types of developmental delays?

Parents often look forward to watching their children reach new milestones. Developmental milestones cover different skill areas such as walking, talking, and critical thinking. When these skills seem to be delayed in your child, it can be alarming. Many times, delays can be overcome through early intervention, but delayed milestones can also serve as warning signs to underlying problems.

Children may experience delays in their physical, emotional, and mental growth. In the event of delayed development, early detection and treatment is key to helping your child grow properly. The different developmental delays you may notice in your child might include problems in:

  • Speech or language
  • Movement or motor skills
  • Emotional and social skills
  • Cognitive skills

Developmental delays are often most noticeable between infancy up to the age of two.

What are the causes of developmental delays?

Children meet their milestones at different rates and may experience delays due to varying reasons. Children with genetic conditions like muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome are more likely to experience developmental delays.

Delayed developmental growth may also arise from malnutrition. Most breastfed infants don’t experience malnutrition, but once you start weaning them, the risk of nutritional imbalances rises.

Here are a few early warning signs if you’re worried about your child’s development.

Speech or Language Developmental Delays

Speech covers the verbal expression and forming of words, while language is much broader and refers to the system of receiving and expressing information. Language delays aren’t unusual. They rank as one of the most common types of developmental delays.

By three to four months, most children can babble and respond to loud noises. By 12 to 17 months, toddlers can typically:

  • Copy simple words
  • Imitate sounds
  • Say two-word phrases or short sentences

Children with learning disabilities and hearing loss may have language delays. Some children may also find it hard to talk because of:

Assessing your child’s hearing, expressive language (how they communicate), and receptive language (how they understand language) is key to determining the cause of speech or language delay. Speech therapy sessions can then help manage symptoms.

Motor Developmental Delays

Delays in motor development may arise from problems in gross motor skills or fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve the movement of large groups of muscles such as arms, and legs, while fine motor skills involve the movement of small groups of muscles such as the wrist, hands, and toes.

Most children can hold items, bring items towards their mouths, and support their heads by three to four months. By 12 months, most children can walk.

Signs of a motor development delay include not being able to walk by 18 months or not developing a heel-to-toe walking pattern.

To improve gross motor skills, your child’s doctor may encourage more physical activities or physical therapy if they are diagnosed with motor delays. Through active play, children get to practice and improve on their large body movements.

Occupational therapy involving tasks like playing with clay, using scissors, or doing puzzles can help improve your child’s fine motor skills.

Emotional and Social Developmental Delays

As they get older, children gradually develop more complex emotional and social skills. By one year, toddlers typically:

  • Enjoy playing peek-a-boo
  • Get shy or nervous around strangers
  • Show affection towards parents
  • Become distressed when separated from parents

Children may experience problems interacting with other children or adults. These problems may arise from cognitive delays, neglect, or attachment issues.

The earliest sign of delayed social development is the lack of a social smile by three months. Babies with social development delays may also get easily scared by new faces and may not show affection to caregivers.

For children with social development delays, play therapy helps by improving the immediate relationship between child and parent. Your child can then continue learning to develop meaningful relationships with people around them.

Cognitive Developmental Delays

Cognitive skills involve how children think, explore, and solve problems. They allow children to understand the world around them. By one year, most children can respond to their names. By two years, children should:

  • Know the use of everyday items like spoons, toothbrushes, and hairbrushes
  • Start to copy words and actions
  • Follow simple instructions

Delays in cognitive skills may arise from:

Early detection makes a big difference in the progress your child makes. The use of behavioral therapy, play therapy, and educational intervention can help your child develop specific cognitive skills.

Seeking professional help

Normally, developmental delays are not serious, and most children eventually catch up. There are, however, cases like autism spectrum disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome, and genetic defects where serious developmental delays may be persistent.

As a concerned parent, it’s natural to worry. If you notice signs of lagging development in your child, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice and assistance. Your child’s pediatrician will provide extra guidance on the best course of action depending on the underlying cause.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2021
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