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What is Developmental Delay?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A developmental delay is a failure to reach an expected developmental milestone within the range generally expected, such as a failure to start crawling within six to 10 months. Developmental delays indicate that something is wrong with a child and there may be treatment options available to address the issue or provide support to the child as she grows up. Such delays are usually identified by pediatricians, parents, and teachers. Early intervention can be very beneficial in many cases and this is one reason many school districts offer screenings to all their students as a matter of course, to identify any developmental issues as early as possible.

As infants develop into children, they reach a number of points known as “milestones” where they start to exhibit new behaviors. Not every child hits milestones at the same time, with most coming within a target range covering four to six months. Missing a developmental milestone is not necessarily an immediate sign of developmental delay, as some perfectly healthy children simply lag behind others, and in other cases, people may skip these landmarks in childhood development, as when a child doesn't crawl, but does start walking.

A developmental delay becomes a cause for concern when it is evident that rather than simply lagging behind peers in a similar age group, a child is experiencing significant impairments to progress. Parents may notice that their children fail to develop as expected, in comparison with other children, and people like teachers and doctors can also identify children who appear to be experiencing some trouble.

Sometimes, a developmental delay is genetic. It may not be possible to treat the delay, but the child can be provided with specialized educational interventions to improve communication and life skills. A child who does not learn to talk, for example, might be able to communicate with sign language, a communication board, or other techniques. Sometimes, medications are helpful for the management of genetic conditions, as are options like occupational therapy.

Other developmental delays are caused by environmental factors, and it may be possible to do something about them, such as limiting exposure to toxins. Issues like hearing and vision problems can be managed with corrective devices, allowing a child to engage with the surrounding environment on a level comparable to his peers and potentially addressing a developmental delay; children who have learning disorders related to hearing impairments may experience an improvement, for instance, when they start using hearing aids in class.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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