Developmental delay is a lag in one or more areas of development for a child. The major areas of childhood development include cognitive (intelligence and ability to process information), social and emotional (ability to interact with and appropriately respond to others), speech and language (ability to speak and understand language), fine motor (small movements), and gross motor (large movements). Children can have a delay in only one area of development, such as speech delay, or can have delay in all areas of development, called global developmental delay. It is important to keep in mind that there is a large range of normal development and each child develops at his or her own pace. However, any concern for development delay should be addressed.
Developmental delay can be caused by any number of inherited or acquired reasons, including an underlying genetic condition or metabolic disorder (Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, or phenylketonuria (PKU)), autism spectrum disorder, exposure to harmful agents before a baby is born (prenatal alcohol exposure, prenatal drug exposure, prenatal infection or poor maternal nutrition), and premature birth. Developmental delay is identified and diagnosed through developmental screenings and evaluations that are typically performed by a doctor or a specialist, such as a neuropsychologist. Treatment of developmental delay typically consists of therapies that focus on the area, or areas, of delay. Children with delays in language development typically receive speech therapy. Children with delays in fine motor development typically receive occupational therapy. Children with delays in gross motor development typically receive physical therapy. If an underlying treatable condition is identified as the reason for developmental delay, treatment of that condition may help improve development. Speak to your doctor about the best treatment options for your child.