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Developmental delays in children are just what they sound like – delays in development. A developmental delay may involve thinking, processing information, walking, talking, interacting with others, and many other things. 

Childhood development from infancy through adulthood tends to go through similar stages for every child. For example, most children begin to smile by the time they’re a couple months old, crawl by the time they’re seven months old, speak at least a few words by the time they’re about a year old, and so on. 

A child may be diagnosed with developmental delay if he or she doesn’t meet milestones within an expected time. 

Beaumont Children’s offers multiple resources for developmental delay treatment and disagnosis. This includes the Center for Human Development (CHD) and Center for Exceptional Families (CEF) . Each diagnoses and treats children and adolescents with developmental, behavioral, and learning challenges. 

Beaumont Children’s evaluates and treats children who are showing evidence of, or who are at risk for the following development disorders:

Developmental delay versus developmental disorder

A developmental delay may occur in any child with or without cause. A child may be diagnosed with a developmental delay when he or she doesn’t meet expected developmental milestones, like rolling over, crawling, babbling, keeping eye contact, and talking, but doctors have not yet determined the cause of the delay nor diagnosed a developmental disability. A developmental disability is a long-term, chronic problem that results from physical or intellectual/mental challenges (or both).

Minor or temporary delays aren’t usually cause for concern and may not need treatment, but if your child has an ongoing delay or delays in multiple areas, he or she may need to be treated in an attempt to reduce the difficulties he or she could experience later in life. 

Developmental delay disorders in children

There are several categories of developmental delay disorders children can experience. Those are:

Cognitive delays (delays in thinking and processing information)

These delays can affect intellectual functioning and may interfere with situational awareness. Many children with cognitive delays have learning difficulties that become more obvious when they reach school age. Children who have cognitive delays may also have trouble communicating with and playing with other children.

Cognitive delays can be a result of brain injury from an infection. Children who have disorders or syndromes that affect intellectual development are at greater risk of cognitive delay.

Communication/speech delays (delays in talking or communicating requests or information; difficulty with forming words or using words correctly)

Speech and communication delays can stem from different disorders. Some are due to receptive language disorders, which makes it difficult for someone to understand words and concepts. Other delays can stem from expressive language disorders, which can result in reduced vocabulary and limited ability to use complex sentences. Some children have a combination of receptive language disorders and expressive language disorders. Children with communication or speech delays may be slow to learn to babble (as infants), talk, or put sentences together.

Communication delays may also be caused by oral motor problems, like mouth muscle weakness or difficult moving the jaw or tongue. This is considered a speech production disorder. Brain damage, genetic syndromes, and hearing loss can also lead to communication delays. 

Motor delays (delays in abilities to physically maneuver and manipulate things in the environment, such as delayed walking or difficulty eating or using toys and tools)

Delays in motor skill development make it difficult for children to coordinate movement in large muscles, such as the arms and legs, and smaller muscles, like muscles in the hands. When infants have delays in gross motor skills, they may not be able to roll over or crawl when they should, and older children may have difficulty with normal physical tasks like walking up or down stairs. When children have delays in fine motor skills, they may have trouble grasping and holding small objects or doing things like tying their shoes.

Motor delays may be a result of a genetic condition like achondroplasia or conditions that affect the muscles, like muscular dystrophy (MD) or cerebral palsy (CP). Structural issues, such as limb length differences, can also cause problems with motor skills.

Social, emotional, or behavioral delays (delays in forming social relationships or having appropriate emotional responses)

Children who have this type of developmental delay often have neurobehavioral disorders, like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Their brains tend to develop differently than other children’s, which may lead to them processing information and reacting to stimuli within their environment differently than their peers might. Social/emotional/behavior delays can negatively impact learning, communication, and social interaction. These difficulties are often due to trouble understanding social cues or knowing how to carry on a two-way conversation. This type of developmental delay can also cause poor coping mechanisms, which can lead to behaviors that seem like tantrums or meltdowns. 

Any type of developmental delay in children can affect their skills or ability to function normally in society. Some children with developmental delays have delays in more than one area. When a child has delays in multiple or all areas, they are considered to have global developmental delay. 

Signs and symptoms of developmental delays

The signs of developmental delays vary greatly depending upon the type and degree of delay. Some of the more common signs and symptoms of delays are:

Early signs of delayed language or speech

  • By three or four months:
    • Doesn’t respond to loud noises or other sounds
    • Doesn’t babble or try to imitate sounds
  • By age one:
    • Doesn’t use single words or doesn’t understand simple words like “no”
  • By age two:
    • Cannot speak at least 15 words
    • Does not use two-word phrases without repetition
    • Avoids using speech to communicate

Signs of delayed development of motor skills

  • By four to seven months:
    • Doesn’t reach for objects, or only uses one hand to reach, and isn’t able to hold or grasp objects
    • Can’t support his or her head well, often flopping when put in a sitting position
    • Doesn’t put objects in the mouth
    • Doesn’t roll over 
    • Can’t sit up unassisted
    • Has muscle stiffness or weakness (floppy or stiff muscles) 
    • Has difficulty bringing objects to the mouth
  • By one year:
    • Isn’t able to crawl or drags one side of the body while crawling
    • Can’t stand even with support
  • By 18 months to two years:
    • Can’t walk by 18 months
    • Doesn’t walk heel-to-toe or walks on toes at two years

Signs of delayed cognitive development

  • By three or four months:
    • Doesn’t search for objects you hide while he or she is watching
    • Doesn’t wave or use other gestures
    • Doesn’t point to pictures or objects
    • Doesn’t imitate words or actions

Signs of delayed social, emotional, or behavioral skills

  • By three or four to eight months:
    • Doesn’t smile, laugh, or show signs of enjoyment
    • Doesn’t pay attention to new people or seems to be afraid of them 
    • Doesn’t cuddle
    • Shows little or no affection for parents or other caregivers
    • Isn’t interested in playing peek-a-boo

Diagnosing developmental delays

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. If you are concerned about your child’s development, talk with his or her pediatrician about developmental milestones and how your child is progressing. Pediatricians are trained to know what’s normal and what may be a sign of a developmental delay or disorder.

If your child’s doctor believes your child may have a delay, the doctor will perform exams or recommend tests. 

Treatment for developmental delays

Treatment for developmental delays will vary depending on the type(s) and severity of delay(s). Below are some possible treatments for different types of delays.

Speech/communication delay treatment

If your child’s pediatrician believes your child may have a speech or communication delay, you may be referred to a pediatric speech-language pathologist who can test your child’s hearing and evaluate your child’s receptive and expressive language skills. If there are delays, the speech-language pathologist will work with you to plan speech therapy sessions. He or she may also recommend that you do some things at home to encourage improved language skills, such as:

  • Communicate more with your child by talking and singing
  • Read to your child every day
  • Have hearing tested 
  • Get treatment for any existing middle ear infections

If there is a physical cause of the speech delay, you may be referred to a surgeon to talk about the possibility of correcting any abnormality that may be causing your child’s delays.

Treatment for motor skill delay

Physical therapy is a common treatment for gross motor skill delays, and both physical and occupational therapy can help address fine motor delays or any sensory integration problems. 

If delays are mild, you may be able to do some treatments at home that encourage physical activity, like playing with your child and doing things that get him or her moving and active.

Treatment for social or emotional delays

Social and emotional delays, such as autism spectrum disorder, do not have a cure, so treatment is focused on improving function. Treatment may include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Skill building therapy
  • Play therapy
  • Attachment therapy

The earlier a delay is recognized and treated, the better outcomes tend to be. If you believe your child has a social or emotional delay, talk with his or her pediatrician and ask for an evaluation.

Learn more about autism spectrum disorder and how specialists at Beaumont Children’s can help.

Treatment for cognitive delays

Getting early treatment for cognitive delays helps improve treatment effectiveness. Some of the treatment options for cognitive delays are:

  • Educational intervention to help develop cognitive skills
  • Play therapy
  • Behavior therapy
  • Home-based intervention

Your child’s doctor may be able to recommend some things you can do at home to help encourage your child’s development.

Center for Human Development

The Center for Human Development (CHD) at Beaumont Children's is committed to using a multidisciplinary, evidence-based approach to diagnose and treat children and adolescents who experience developmental, behavioral, and learning challenges. Call either our Southfield location at 248-691-4744, or our Grosse Pointe location at 313-473-4730 to request an appointment. 

Center for Exceptional Families

Located in Dearborn, the Beaumont Children’s Center for Exceptional Families follows a medical home model of comprehensive and innovative rehabilitation care, offering children with special needs and their families support throughout their unique life journeys. Call 313-996-1960 to make an appointment.

For a referral to a Beaumont doctor for your child, call 855-480-KIDS (855-480-5437).