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Recognizing Developmental Delays in Your Child: Ages 3 to 5

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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

Other possible causes of motor difficulties, although most are rare, include:

  • Problems with vision
  • Ataxia, a defect that impairs muscle coordination
  • Myopathy, a disease of the muscles

Types of treatment. For motor delays, your child's doctor may suggest taking certain steps at home to encourage more physical activity. Your child may also need:

  • Physical therapy for gross motor delays
  • Occupational therapy for fine motor delays or sensory integration problems

Warning signs of motor skill delays

Contact your child's doctor if your child has any of these signs of motor delays at these ages. Remember to also watch for any loss of skills already learned.

By 3 years, your child

  • Falls often and may have trouble going up and down stairs
  • Drools often and has unclear speech
  • Has trouble working with small objects
  • Cannot build a tower of more than 4 blocks

By 4 years, your child

  • Cannot throw a ball overhead
  • Cannot jump in place
  • Cannot ride a tricycle
  • Cannot grasp a crayon between thumb and fingers or has trouble scribbling
  • Cannot stack four blocks

By 5 years, your child

  • Cannot build a tower of six to eight blocks
  • Seems uncomfortable holding a crayon
  • Has trouble taking off clothing
  • Cannot brush teeth well
  • Cannot wash and dry hands

Social and Emotional Delays in Children

Social and emotional delays, which usually show up before school, may cause children to have problems interacting with adults or other children.

Possible causes. Some causes of social and emotional delays include:

  • Neglect, such as from early institutionalization
  • Ineffective parenting
  • Weak attachment
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