Recognizing Developmental Delays: An Important Part of Parenting

developmental delay

How can I tell if my child has a developmental delay? It’s a common parenting question. Significantly, early intervention is key to diagnosing a child’s developmental delay. Colin Nguyen, MD, who specializes in child neurology and epileptology, at Renown Children’s Hospital explains how to spot delays and how to help.

Of course we want our children to be healthy, smart and capable. We also want them to have friends, succeed at school, pursue hobbies and experience happiness and joy. A developmental delay doesn’t prevent your child from achieving these goals. 

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

Recognizing a Developmental Delay

What is a developmental delay? It is a lag in progress in several areas of growth. For example, babies usually sit up between four and seven months of age. If a baby isn’t sitting up by eight months, this might still be considered typical. But if the child is not sitting up, rolling over and crawling, these combined missed milestones likely indicate a delay in motor skills.

That’s why your pediatrician’s involvement is vital. Every child is unique and develops on their own timeline. Together, with your pediatrician, you can track your child’s milestones to help determine any delay. Your pediatrician will know if a behavior is a typical part of development, or a deeper-rooted delay needing closer evaluation by a specialist.

So what should you look for? First, monitor for any delays reaching milestones, including:

  • Everyday activities
  • Language skills
  • Motor skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Social/behavioral skills

    A delay can occur in one or several of the areas above. Again, all children develop differently, and your child may only fall behind temporarily. This is not considered a delay.

    However, if your doctor feels your child’s delays are cause for concern, then more evaluations with a developmental pediatrician or neurologist may be in order. This includes your child not making ongoing developmental progress or not reaching several milestones in a timely manner.

Developmental Delay Diagnosis and Interventions

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

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

In general, treatment and prognosis depend on the severity of the delay and its primary cause. Regardless, early action will potentially improve your child’s outcome. Continue to work with closely and follow up with your care team. They can advise you in finding the right treatment program and guide your child’s progress.

Most, if not nearly all, children with delays of varying degrees can improve with early intervention services.  Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and/or psychological and behavioral health services, may also be recommended. Depending on other symptoms such as seizures or medical issues specific to your child, medical follow-up with a specialist may be necessary.

If your child still has delays as they reach 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. To clarify, an IEP creates measurable, attainable, academic goals for your child, including 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 previously appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

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