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What Are the Symptoms of Developmental Delay?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated May 17, 2024
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The symptoms of developmental delay vary according to the developmental milestone that is desired. The first clue of developmental delay is that a child may not be developing at a reasonable rate and may seem 'slow' or 'behind' other children of the same age. Children develop at their own pace so it may be just a temporary lag and nothing to worry about or it may be an indication that there is a more serious condition.

Developmental delays are diagnosed by doctors according to strict guidelines. Charting height and weight is one of the more obvious developmental milestones but there are motor and language skills to be gauged from the first few months of life. At around one month old, there is usually some vocalization; at three months, babies should push their head up when they are lying on their stomachs and by four months, there is usually laughter and response to parents. While each child develops at their own pace, there are upper limits as to when a child should be able to do a certain task. When these limits are passed without achievement of that task, this is when parents would do well to mention possible symptoms of developmental delay to their medical care provider.

Milestones are age-specific tasks that the majority of children can do within a certain age range. Tasks that should be achieved by a certain age include gross motor skills like being able to sit, stand, crawl, walk; fine motor skills such as eating, drawing, dressing or stacking blocks; language skills which include not only speaking but also using body language and understanding what others say; thinking skills like problem solving and social interaction which includes cooperating and responding to what another is feeling. Just because one child has not mastered a certain skill by a certain age does not mean there is anything seriously wrong but any symptoms of developmental delay should be monitored by parents and primary care givers.

In the first few weeks of a baby's life, possible symptoms of a developmental delay include signs such as feeding slowly and sucking weakly, not blinking in bright light, difficulty focusing as evidenced by not following a object as it is moved from side to side. If arms and legs seem either too stiff or too floppy and there is little or no response to loud sounds then there may be cause for concern. By the first year, the list of developmental milestones is much longer and the parents would be advised to be familiar with the tasks their child should be able to do within a certain age range.

If there is a more serious cause of delay than a temporary lagging behind such as genetic causes or birth complications, then these need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Other causes of developmental delay may include hearing loss from chronic ear infections or lead poisoning which can indicate symptoms of developmental delay but are easily reversed through treatment.

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