What is Developmental Delay?
Developmental delay means that there is a significant, ongoing delay in a child’s development. A child is diagnosed with developmental delay when cognitive, motor, and/or speech and language skills do not meet the developmental milestones for particular actions and ages, such as crawling at 6 months of age or walking and saying first words at 12 months. Children with developmental or neurological problems often have delays that affect these skills. Some children appear to be developing normally in most areas, but are “late talkers”.
Developmental delay can be due to genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, or problems prior to birth, such as fetal alcohol syndrome FAS) or at birth (prematurity). Often, there is no known cause. Children with global developmental delay, which involves cognitive or intellectual impairment, develop and learn more slowly and need more intensive input from parents and caregivers and frequent practice to learn new skills.
Children reach developmental milestones at their own pace, but if your child shows an ongoing delay or multiple delays, it is important to seek help. Although children learn throughout childhood, brain development is most rapid during the first five years of life. This is the period when children are more open to learning and benefit most from intervention. Early speech-language intervention is essential to help the child with developmental delays to learn to communicate effectively.
What can professionals do to help?
The speech-language pathologist (SLP) will assess your child’s speech, language, oral-motor, and social abilities. The SLP will develop intervention goals and strategies which support the child’s development of these skills. SLPs are important members of healthcare teams providing help to children with developmental delays. Depending on the child’s needs and abilities, the SLP will work with other professionals to develop treatment recommendations.
Parent education is key to ensuring that a child has appropriate and frequent language input in the home which promotes language learning. The SLP will model strategies to help the child learn language and use sounds, words, phrases or sentences throughout the day. If the child is nonverbal, other communication options may be suggested to help the child develop speech, language, and social skills.
Coaching parents or caregivers to be responsive communication partners is also important. The SLP may suggest strategies to help your child engage in social interaction and joint attention since this is how children learn new words.