Recognizing Developmental Delays: An Important Part of Parenting


Early intervention is key to diagnosing and improving developmental delays in children. Dr. Colin Nguyen of Renown Children’s Hospital explains how to spot delays and how to help.

By Colin Nguyen, MD, child neurology and epileptology, Institute for Neurosciences, Renown Children’s Hospital

We want our children to be healthy, smart and capable. We want them to have friends, succeed at school, pursue hobbies and interests and experience happiness and joy. Developmental delays need not necessarily prevent your child from achieving these goals. 

Acknowledging concerns about your child’s development should not cause apprehension. Because timely and early intervention is key to improving upon delays, it’s important for a parent to be aware and seek evaluation if their child shows signs of struggle.

Recognizing a Developmental Delay

What is a developmental delay? A developmental delay is a lag in development in more than one area. For example, babies should learn to sit up on their own sometime between four and seven months. If a baby isn’t sitting up by eight months, that might still be considered typical for that individual. But if the child is not sitting up, rolling over and crawling, those missed milestones combined likely indicate a delay in motor skills.


That’s why your pediatrician’s involvement is vital. Children develop on their own time frame, and your pediatrician can help you determine the severity of any delays as together you track your child’s milestones. Your pediatrician will know if a behavior is a typical part of development, or a deeper-rooted delay that requires closer evaluation by a specialist.

So what should you look for?  Monitor for any delays reaching milestones that involve activities of daily living and language, motor, cognitive and social/behavioral skills. A delay can occur in one or several of these areas. Again, all children develop differently, and your child may just be falling behind temporarily. This is not considered a delay. If your pediatrician, however, feels your child’s delays are cause for concern — they are not making appropriate developmental progress and reaching several milestones in a timely manner — then further evaluation with a developmental pediatrician or neurologist may be in order.

Diagnosis and Interventions

If your child is, in fact, experiencing developmental delays, doctors will look for the source of the delay. And while the cause can’t always be determined, medical professionals may be able to attribute the delays to one of the following:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Heredity
  • Genetic abnormality
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Medical complications from premature birth

Treatment and prognosis depend on the extent of the severity of the delay and its underlying cause. Regardless, early intervention will potentially improve outcomes for your child. Continue to work closely and follow up with your pediatrician, who can counsel you in finding the right treatment program and guide your child’s developmental progress.

Most, if not nearly all children with delays of varying degrees can improve with early intervention services, along with physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and/or psychological/behavioral health services, if recommended. Depending on other associated symptoms such as seizures or medical issues specific to your child, medical follow-up with the appropriate specialist(s) may be required.

If your child still has delays as he or she reaches school age, resources are available through the public school system. Qualifying children may receive psychological evaluations and be issued an individualized education plan, or IEP, which establishes measurable, attainable academic goals for your child and resources to assist in reaching those goals.

To learn more about children and developmental delays, talk to your pediatrician. Visit the Children’s Health page at for additional information about children’s health and development.

This article also appeared in the July 30 issue of the Reno Gazette-Journal.