Recognizing Developmental Delays in Children
As you watch your child grow, it helps to 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
- 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
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 directions.
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
Types of treatment. If you or your child’s doctor suspects a speech delay problem, seek an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist. This specialist may test your child’s hearing and use speech therapy with your child. The specialist or doctor may also suggest that you:
- communicate more with your child -- talk, sing, and encourage repetition
- read daily to your child
- reinforce speech and language throughout the day
- get treatment for middle ear infections
Warning signs of speech or language delays. Contact your child's doctor if your child has any of the following signs at the age that's indicated. In addition, watch for any loss of skills that have already been learned.
By 3 to 4 months, contact the doctor if your child:
- does not respond to loud noises
- does not babble
- begins babbling but does not try to imitate sounds (by 4 months)
By 7 months, contact the doctor if your child:
- does not respond to sounds
By 1 year, contact the doctor if your child:
- does not use any single words (like "mama")
By 2 years, contact the doctor if your child:
- cannot speak at least 15 words
- does not use two-word phrases without repetition; can only imitate speech
- does not use speech to communicate more than immediate needs