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Spotting Developmental Delays in Your Child: Ages 3-5

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Every child grows and learns at his own pace, and the range of what’s normal is pretty wide. It’s helpful, though, to know the signs that your child might not have the skills most other kids have at his age. Doctors call those problems developmental delays.

Many delays aren’t serious, and most kids can catch up, especially when they get early treatment. The key is to get your child the help he needs as soon as you think there’s a problem. If you wonder whether your little one is falling behind in emotional, mental, or physical growth, don't wait to find out. Talk to his doctor right away.

What Are Developmental Delays?

There are many different types. Children might have problems with:

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

Language and Speech Delays

These problems are the most common type of developmental delay. They sound similar, but they’re different types of issues. Speech means the sounds that come out of a person’s mouth. Children who have a speech delay may stutter or have trouble saying words the right way.

Language refers to the meanings of sounds and gestures. Kids with language problems may have trouble expressing themselves or understanding others.

Possible causes. A delay in these skills can happen for many reasons, including:

What you can do. If you think your child has a problem with his speech or language, let his doctor know right away. The doctor will need to test his hearing. She’ll probably also suggest that your child see a professional who can diagnose and treat these delays, called a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist. This specialist will study how your child expresses himself, including:

  • What he understands
  • What he can say
  • Other ways he tries to get his thoughts across, such as gestures or nodding

If your child does have a delay, he might need speech therapy. A therapist can work with him on how to pronounce words and sounds, and strengthen the muscles in his face and mouth. You can also work with your child on speech and language:

  • Talk with her throughout the day. Point out objects or sounds at home, at the grocery store, in the car, or anywhere you go. Ask her questions and respond to her answers.
  • Read to your child every day.
  • Get treatment for ear infections or any other condition that might affect her hearing.
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