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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
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