About developmental delay

When young children are slower to develop physical, emotional, social and communication 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 it might be the first sign of a long-term problem.

Long-term developmental delays are also called developmental disabilities. Examples include learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder.

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.

Signs of developmental delay

Every child develops differently, and there’s a big range of ‘normal’ in children’s development.

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.

People who can help children with developmental delay

Your GP, child and family health nurse or paediatrician can help if you think your child might have developmental delay, or your child has a developmental delay diagnosis. The following professionals can also help:

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 his 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

Lots of different 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.

Other causes for short-term delays include physical illness, long periods in hospital, and family stress.

In many cases, the cause of developmental delay isn’t known.