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Recognizing Developmental Delays in Children

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As you watch your child grow, remember that each child develops at his or her own pace and the range of normal is quite wide. However, it is helpful to be aware of red flags for potential developmental delays in children. These delays are significant lags in one or more areas of emotional, mental, or physical growth. If your child experiences a delay, early treatment is the best way to help him or her make progress or even to catch up.

What Are Developmental Delays in Young Children?

There are many different types of developmental delays in infants and young children. They include problems with:

  • language or speech
  • vision
  • movement -- motor skills
  • social and emotional skills
  • thinking -- cognitive skills

Sometimes, a delay occurs in many or all of these areas. When that happens, it is called "global developmental delay." Global developmental delay may occur for any of the following reasons:

  • a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome
  • fetal alcohol syndrome, caused by a mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy
  • fragile X syndrome, an inherited type of cognitive impairment
  • severe medical problems developing soon after birth, often associated with prematurity
  • often no cause can be found

What follows are warning signs for different types of delays that may show up from infancy to age 2. You will also learn about some of the causes of developmental delays and potential treatments.

Language and Speech Developmental Delays in Children

Speech delays in toddlers are common. In fact, language and speech problems are the most common type of developmental delay. Speech refers to verbal expression, including the way words are formed. Language is a broader system of expressing and receiving information, such as being able to understand gestures.

Possible causes. A variety of problems may cause language and speech delays, including:

  • exposure to more than one language -- which can cause mild delays in toddlers but not delays by the time they reach school age
  • a learning disability
  • a problem with the muscles controlling speech -- a disorder called dysarthria
  • hearing loss, which may occur in children who have severe middle ear infections or occur as a result of certain medications, trauma, or genetic disorders
  • autism spectrum disorders -- a group of neurological disorders that may involve impaired communication as well as impaired social interaction and cognitive skills
  • no cause can be found
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