Developmental delay describes the behavior of young children whose development in key mental and physical areas is slower than other children of the same age. The delay can be in any of a number of areas of development, such as movement (motor control), speaking, thinking, playing, or self-care skills.
Approximately 14% of all toddlers and preschoolers in the United States are classified as having developmental delay. However, as many as 1 in 4 children through the age of 5 are at risk for a developmental delay or disability. Early identification allows communities to provide more effective and affordable treatment during the preschool years, and can lessen the need for expensive special-education services in later childhood.
Parents are often the first to notice a child isn’t hitting their milestones in 1 of the 5 areas of development mentioned above. However, lagging behind on a milestone attainment does not necessarily mean a child has developmental delay. Children need to demonstrate a significant delay in 1 or more areas of development.
For example, in infancy a child is first suspected to have developmental delay if common motor milestones are not being met, such as:
- Holding the head up by 4 months
- Sitting by about 6 months
- Walking by about 12 months
Children might be suspected of having a motor developmental delay if they are not exploring movement in a variety of ways. Sometimes children who have a motor developmental delay may also have an additional diagnosis, such as hypotonia (low muscle tone) that contributes to their difficulty with movement.
Motor development in children can often be the first area of delay that is noticed by caregivers. However, in infants and young children, all areas of development are closely connected; a delay in one area can impact progress in another. For example, learning about objects or babbling and talking can be affected if a child does not learn to sit or change positions. Sensory problems, such as hypersensitivity to touch or an inability to plan and problem-solve how to move, may also add to movement difficulties.
Children who have some or all of these problems that inhibit their movement development also may develop a fear of trying new motor skills, which can then lead to social or emotional problems.
How does Physical Therapy & Rehab Specialists treat developmental delays?
Your therapist will first evaluate your child, conducting an appropriate and detailed test to determine the child’s specific strengths and weaknesses. Your therapist will discuss your observations and concerns with you. If the child is diagnosed as having developmental delay, your physical therapist will problem-solve with you about your family’s routines and environment to find ways to enhance and build your child’s developmental skills.