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What Are the Causes of Developmental Delay?

A. Reed
A. Reed

Developmental milestones are particular motor, cognitive, social, and emotional skills that young children should be performing at certain ages. For instance, most children are pulling themselves up to a standing position, trying to talk, and eating on their own by about one year of age. Sometimes babies and children are not able to meet these milestones, and some of the most common causes of developmental delay are birth defects, congenital illness, fetal alcohol syndrome, and neglect. While each child develops as an individual in his or her own time, there are approximate points along the developmental timeline when elemental tasks should be accomplished.

Children may exhibit physical signs of developmental delay, such as having underdeveloped ears and facial deformities, while motor delays are characterized by a floppy rag doll stature, an inability to stand by one year of age, or stiffened limbs. In some children, there aren't any noticeable physical or motor delays, and causes of developmental delay do not become apparent until they reach school age, a time when behavioral delays are likely to appear. Signs in this area include a marked inability to focus or hold attention as compared to children of the same age, avoidance of affection or eye contact, frequent displays of violent behavior, and withdrawal.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Even though frequently thought of as such, a developmental delay is not equal to a developmental disability. Generally, a child who is experiencing a delay lags behind his peers in a certain area while reaching other milestones normally, or may show delays in several areas, referred to as global developmental delay. With help, these children can remedy the deficits and are able to improve, sometimes exceeding the norm.

Developmental disabilities are permanent conditions that do not get better with help, and only the effects are manageable. Many times, developmental disabilities are part of the etiology and causes of developmental delay, in that birth defects affect how the body functions. Conditions such as mental retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), autism, and Down syndrome are developmental disabilities.

One of the most profound causes of developmental delay is neglect, as research experts reveal that neglected children tend to suffer from lags in intellectual development more than those who are not, even including physically abused children. As a result of abnormal brain formation, delays are experienced in several areas: emotionally, cognitively, physically, and socially. A highly-accommodating organ, the brain will adjust and readjust to the demands placed upon it for the sake of survival. Therefore, just as proper nutrition and genetics play a significant role, it is now known that a child's environment, relationships, and experiences are extremely fundamental to continued health, growth, and development.

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