About developmental delay

Developmental delay can show up in the way a child moves, communicates, thinks and learns, or behaves with others. When more than one of these things is affected, the term ‘global developmental delay’ might be used.

Developmental delay might happen just in the short term or it might be long term or permanent.

Causes of developmental delay

Lots of different things can cause children to develop more slowly than their peers.

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 name that better explains the child’s condition.

Short-term developmental delays can happen in premature babies. Other causes for short-term delays are physical illness, prolonged hospitalisation, family stress or lack of opportunity to learn.

Permanent developmental delays are also called ‘developmental disabilities’. These can be signs of other conditions. Examples include:

Diagnosis of developmental delay

Often you might have an idea that there is a problem with your child’s development long before it’s diagnosed by a professional.

You know your child better than anyone else. So if you’re concerned about your child’s development, it’s a good idea to start by talking to your GP or child and family health nurse.

Developmental delay can be diagnosed after a child’s health and development are assessed by qualified health professionals.

Living with developmental delay

Like other children, children with developmental delay keep learning. But they take longer to develop new skills, and might learn in slightly different ways.

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 opportunities to practise.

Support and treatment for children with developmental delay

The following professionals might be able to help if you think your child might have developmental delay, or your child has a developmental delay diagnosis: