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What is a Develpomental Delay?

A child living in severe poverty can have developmental delays.
A child living in severe poverty can have developmental delays.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A developmental delay is when a child 3 months to 5 years of age does not reach a developmental milestone by the expected time period. A developmental milestone is the ability of the child to achieve by the majority of children within a certain age. Developmental milestones can include communication, emotional, cognitive, social and physical skills. Examples would be talking, expressing emotions, recognizing familiar sounds, sharing with others and walking. Some children will have delays in all five areas of development or they may have it happen in one or more of the five areas of development. Should they have a delay in one area of development they are likely to have effects in other areas. An example of this is their speech and language delays can affect their social and emotional development

Developmental delays have two risk factors which consist of their genetics and their environment. A child can be born with the delay through genetics or chromosomal abnormalities. An example of a genetic risk is Down syndrome which is a disorder that causes developmental delays due to abnormal chromosomes. Environmental risks typically result from harmful agents before or after birth. An example of this would be poor maternal nutrition or exposure to toxins from lead or drugs. Other environmental risks include the child’s life experience’s such as a child who is born prematurely, a child who lives in severe poverty, poor nutrition, a child with a mother who has depression, or a child who’s lacks proper care. The more risk factors the higher the child is at risk of having a developmental delay.

There are numerous warning signs for the possibility of a developmental delay. There are behavioral signs such as the child is unable to pay attention or stay focused on a particular activity for the same amount of time as the other children do that are the same age. Other signs are that they will focus on a particular object for a long period of time rather than interacting with others. They also rarely make eye contact and become very frustrated when trying to do simple tasks that most children are capable of doing at their age. They may also show aggressive and or violent behaviors on a daily basis. Some also will stare into space, talk to them self, or rock their body. They also do not seek love or approval from their caregiver or parent. The gross motor warning signs consist of stiff arms and/or legs, has a floppy or limp body posture in comparison to other children their age. They also will use one side of their body more than the other side and are very clumsy compared to the other children their age. The vision warning signs show that the child seems to have troubles following objects or people with their eyes and they rub their eyes frequently due to the strain. They also may tilt or hold their head in a strained or unusual position when they try to look at an object. They also struggle to find or pick up small objects that they drop onto the ground as well as having difficulty focusing or making eye contact. They may also close one eye when trying to look at things off to a distance or they may bring objects too close to their eye to see. They may also appear to be crossed eyed or have an eye that turns. It is also possible for them to have one or both eyes that appear abnormal in size or color. Lastly the hearing warning signs can consist of a child who speaks very loudly or softly and may see to have difficulty responding when they are called from across the room. They may turn their body so that the same ear is always turned towards the sound they are listening to or may have difficulty understanding what is being said or following a direction after age three. You may also notice that they are not startled by loud noises or may fail to develop sounds or words that are appropriate for their age. Their ears could also appear to be small or deformed.

Because of the developmental milestone we can predict when a child will acquire certain skills during a specific time frame. Should a child not learn a particular skill at the same time as the other children their age are learning it this could be a warning sign that the child is at risk for a development delay if the child does not learn it in the specific time frame allotted for their age. It is best to consult your physician should you have any concerns that your child is or may possibly be delayed. It is best to catch it early. Most delays can be corrected when caught early enough.

Developmental delays are identified through developmental screenings and developmental evaluations. Developmental screenings are able to be done quickly and are a general measurement of the child’s skills. The developmental screenings consist of questionnaires that ask questions about developmental milestones. The tests are given to your child through a health care provider or an educational professional. The questionnaires are filled out by either a parent or a childcare provider. A diagnosis may not be made by a developmental screening. The results of the developmental screening will suggest that a child may have a developmental delay. If it does suggest that there could be a delay then the child should be referred for a development evaluation. The development evaluation is a lengthy and in-depth assessment of the child’s skills and should only be administered by a highly trained professional such as a psychologist or a behavioral specialist. The developmental evaluation shows the child’s strengths and weaknesses in all of the developmental areas. The results of the developmental evaluation are used to determine whether or not the child needs early intervention services and/or a treatment plan.

A developmental delay in a child is something that defiantly should be addressed. Many doctors routinely include developmental screenings in physical examinations. Parents concerned about any of their child's development should seek the opinion of their pediatrician. Every child develops at his or her own pace, and the range of normal is quite wide. It is helpful, though, to be able to recognize signs of potential developmental delays. Fewer than half of all children with developmental delays are identified before starting school. If you wonder whether your child is experiencing a delay in emotional, mental, or physical growth, don't wait to find out. Talk to your child's doctor right away. Early intervention is the best way to help him or her make progress and be successful in school.

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