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Recognizing Developmental Delays in Your Child: Ages 3 to 5

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Cognitive Delays in Children

Problems with thinking and cognitive skills may occur due to genetic defects, environmental factors, disease, prematurity, nervous system abnormalities, oxygen deprivation during childbirth, and even accidents. 

Possible causes. Common causes of cognitive delays include:

  • A poor learning environment
  • Institutionalization or neglect during infancy or early childhood
  • A wide range of learning disabilities
  • Exposure to alcohol or toxins during pregnancy
  • One of the pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), such as autism

Types of treatment. As with most types of delays, early intervention for cognitive delays can make a big difference in the progress your child makes. Depending upon the diagnosis, treatment may include:

  • Medication in rare cases
  • Play therapy or occupational therapy
  • Special education

Warning signs of cognitive delays

Contact your child's doctor if your child has any of these signs of cognitive delays at these ages.

By 3 years, your child

  • Has trouble copying a circle
  • Cannot understand simple instructions
  • Does not become involved in "pretend" or "make-believe" play
  • Shows limited interest in toys

By 4 years, your child

  • Shows no interest in interactive games
  • Doesn't become involved in fantasy play
  • Cannot copy a circle

By 5 years, your child

  • Is easily distracted
  • Is unable to concentrate on a single activity for more than five minutes

There is a wide range of what is considered normal development in children. Most developmental delays in children are not serious, and most children can eventually catch up. Even children who do have serious delays can make big improvements when treatment begins as early as possible.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Charlene H. Beard, MD on February 06, 2012
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