Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Select An Article
Font Size

Recognizing Developmental Delays in Your Child: Ages 3 to 5

Every child develops at his or her own pace, and the range of normal is quite wide. It is helpful, though, to be able to recognize signs of potential developmental delays.

Fewer than half of all children with developmental delays are identified before starting school. If you wonder whether your child is experiencing a delay in emotional, mental, or physical growth, don't wait to find out. Talk to your child's doctor right away. Early intervention is the best way to help him or her make progress.

What Are Developmental Delays in Children?

There are many different types of developmental delays in children. They might have problems in any of the following areas:

  • Language or speech
  • Movement, or motor skills
  • Emotional and social skills
  • Thinking, or cognitive skills


Language and Speech Delays in Children

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 and includes being able to understand directions.

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

  • Exposure to more than one language
  • A learning disability
  • Hearing loss (Hearing may change often in children who have recurrent middle ear infections.)
  • Autism and similar disorders, which impair social interaction and development

Types of treatment. If you or child's doctor suspects a developmental delay, seek an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist. This specialist may use speech therapy with your child. The specialist or doctor may also suggest that you:

  • Communicate more with your child; talk, sing, 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 these signs at these ages. In addition to these red flags, watch for any loss of skills already learned.

By 3 years, your child

  • Cannot talk in short phrases

By 4 years, your child

  • Doesn't use sentences of more than three words
  • Uses "me" and "you" incorrectly

By 5 years, your child

  • Has trouble understanding two-part commands with prepositions ("under" or "on")
  • Cannot give his or her first and last name
  • Doesn't use plurals or past tense the right way
  • Does not talk about daily activities


Motor Skill Delays in Children

Delays in children may be related to problems with gross motor skills such as playing ball or fine motor skills such as coloring.

Possible causes. Children who have been institutionalized, lack stimulation, or have autism, may have what's called "sensory integration dysfunction." This complex disorder can cause a variety of problems with the senses, including:

  • Problems planning and coordinating movement
  • Fearful reactions to ordinary movements or an excessive need to seek out sensory input, such as by rocking, spinning, or hand-flapping
  • Extreme reactions to touch, textures, or pain

WebMD Medical Reference

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
mother and daughter talking
child brushing his teeth
Sipping hot tea
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
rl with friends
tissue box
Child with adhd