About developmental delay
When young children are slower to develop physical, emotional, social, communication and thinking skills than expected, it’s called developmental delay.
Developmental delay can show up in the way children move, communicate, think and learn, or behave with others. When more than one of these areas is affected, it might be called global developmental delay.
Developmental delay might be short term or long term.
Long-term developmental delays are also called developmental disabilities. Examples include learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and intellectual disability.
Usually health professionals use the term ‘developmental delay’ only until they can work out what’s causing the delay. If and when they find the cause, they’ll use a term that better explains the child’s condition.
Signs of developmental delay
Children grow and develop at different speeds. If you’re worried about whether your child’s development is ‘normal’, it might help to know that ‘normal’ varies a lot.
But as a general guide, you might be concerned about developmental delay if you notice that, over several months, your child isn’t developing motor, social or language skills at the same rate as other children the same age.
Worried about developmental delay: what to do
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else.
If you’re concerned about your child’s development, trust your instincts and talk to your GP, child and family health nurse or paediatrician.
These health professionals can diagnose developmental delay after assessing your child. Or they can refer you to other professionals who can help.
Support for children with developmental delay
If your child has a suspected or confirmed developmental delay diagnosis, early intervention can make a difference.
Early intervention includes therapies, supports, education and so on to help children develop the skills they need to take part in everyday activities. Sometimes children who get early intervention need less or no support as they get older.
If your child has developmental delay, you and your child might work with some or all of the following professionals depending on your child’s needs:
- occupational therapist
- social worker
- special education teacher
- speech pathologist.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) might support your child with developmental delay, as well as you and your family. Our guide to the NDIS and early intervention explains how.
Living with developmental delay
Like other children, children with developmental delay keep learning. But they take longer to develop new skills, and they might learn in slightly different ways from other children.
For example, most children can learn skills quickly and by example. But children with developmental delay might need to be shown skills in smaller, simpler steps. They might also need more time and opportunities to practise skills.
At preschool or school, your child might need extra support to do well. It’s always a good idea to talk with preschools and schools about your child’s needs. And if your child has a disability diagnosis, you might be able to get funding and other school support.
If your child has developmental delay, it’s easy to get caught up in supporting their needs. But it’s important to look after your own wellbeing and get support for yourself too. If you’re physically and mentally well, you’ll be better able to care for your child.
Causes of developmental delay
Many things can cause children to develop more slowly than others.
Developmental delay might happen because of genetic conditions like Down syndrome or because of complications during pregnancy and birth, like premature birth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Other causes of short-term delays include physical illness, long periods in hospital, and family stress.
In many cases, the cause of developmental delay isn’t known.