Child Developmental Delays: Identify Symptoms Early On

Child developmental delays refers to a substantial lag and characterized by missed growth milestones. It is visible in one or more areas at a time and has the potential to impact the future skills of the child. The delay could be enduring, with your child lagging behind permanently unless you intervene. Learn the delayed development symptoms and know how to minimize their effects.

Identify child developmental delays early on

Every child is unique and so are his physical and mental attributes. Not all are expected to have same skills on a strict time table. However, based on the common observations, there are certain skills a child is expected to have by a definite age. When he is slow to attain these milestones or lags behind others in the same age group, it is termed as child development delays.

The absence of any medical condition differentiates child developmental delays from developmental disabilities. The delays may be short lived, but have the potential to make it permanent. However, many of these problems can be overturned with early detection and intervention.

Here is a detailed guide to help parents recognize developmental delay symptoms in children early on and find out ways to enable their children to catch up.

Child Developmental Delays: Language and Speech

Speech refers to verbal expression while language is the ability to understand and be understood through communication. A child with delayed language and speech development exhibits the following symptoms.

  • At 12 months: Inability of a child to use sounds, gestures, or single words for communication. Unable to wave hand to say bye-bye or imitate your words. Continue to do gestures and no vocalization after a year.
  • 12 to 30 months: Not able to say combination words. Use less than 50 words. Failure to speak words spontaneously. Unable to comprehend your easy directions or questions. Your child is only able to imitate your words or repeat a few words.
  • 30 to 45 months: Your kid is not able to say longer sentences, name different parts of the body, and tell plural form of words. He does not comprehend longer words when instructed or asked. Unable to ask questions.
  • After 45 months: A child is not capable of reciting nursery rhymes and using “me” and “you” properly. They are not capable of understanding or answering questions, such as why and who. Additionally, they cannot tell first and last names, past-tense sentences, and prepositions.

When delayed development is the reason for the lack of speech and language capability in a child, you should try to help him immediately. Talk with your child as much as possible. Talk to them about different objects around. Let him know how to understand and respond to different types of questions. Recite nursery books before him and tell stories every day. You may also consult a speech therapist, who can help your child pronounce various words.

Apart from development delays, language and speech problems in a child may be due to tongue or mouth roof problems, inhibiting their ability to speak. Other reasons may include impaired hearing, learning disability, autism, or cerebral palsy. Lack of adequate nutrition in toddlers may also contribute to the problem. A medical examination can help identify the root cause of the problem and rule out these disorders. If there is any reason to worry other than child developmental delays, go for appropriate treatment.

Child Developmental Delays: Motor Skills

The ability of the body to do any action using muscles is known as motor skills. Crawling, running, clapping, and jumping are all motor skills of a child. It involves the ability of the brain to coordinate with muscles and make them act. Gross motor skills involve the use of large muscles while fine motor skills are performed using smaller ones in the extremities.

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The symptoms of delayed motor skill development include:

  • 0 to 12 months: Unable to smile and roll over by the 4th month, failure to reach for toys while on tummy by 6 months, not able to sit on their own by the 8th month, not able to pick up objects or use hands to explore toys by the 9th month, and unable to stand by 10 months.
  • 12 to 24 months: Not able to walk, unable to move in and out of different positions, and incapable of releasing objects into a designated container by the 14th month. Such kids cannot walk independently and are not able to put one object over another.
  • 24 to 36 months: Failure to balance their body, create blocks, climb up and down stairs, and work with smaller objects.
  • 36 to 48 months: Unable to throw or catch a ball, ride kids’ cycles, stand on one leg for more than a few seconds, and create more than three blocks.
  • After 48 months: Unable to climb up and down stairs without support, create at least six blocks, use scissors, and brush their teeth.

Consult a doctor as soon as you are convinced of motor skill problem in your child. It is important to identify any medical reasons linked to delayed motor skills. Problematic vision, ataxia, and cerebral palsy may contribute to similar symptoms. Treatment is a must in such cases.

If child motor development delays are not due to medical problems, you may take help of physical or behavioral therapists. With their expertise, they may help your child to improve motor skills. You should also encourage your child to remain more active, roam around your home, play with different objects, and eat nutritional foods. As the kid grows stronger, he can regain many motor skills and make up for delayed development.

Child Developmental Delays: Social and Emotional

Some children have a delayed development of social and emotional skills. They are not comfortable in getting along with other children and constantly seek parental help. Inability to cope with changes and communicate clearly is also discernible.

If your child has the following symptoms, he or she may have social and emotional development delays.

  • 0 to 9 months: Child not smiling or responding to sounds. Showing a lack of interest in playing.
  • 9 to 12 months: Limited eye contact, rigid, avoiding imitating others, no interest in babies of the same age, lack of response to calls and contacts, and unable to follow your words.
  • 12 to 24 months: Not smiling in response to call, attention deficiency, avoiding to imitate others, inability to engage in an activity for long, don’t respond well to others, exhibits passive behavior, and unable to try new things.
  • 24 to 36 months: Not comfortable with others, unable to make eye contact, not interested in playing, unable to stay without parents, not responsive to other children, aggressive, and finds it difficult to be flexible.
  • 36 to 48 months: Extreme longing for parents, not responsive to anyone other than family members, no attention to children of similar age, failure to make friends, unwilling to share things, visibly more dependent on parents, and too passive or fearful.
  • After 48 months: Does not want to play with other children, lack of wide-ranging emotional reactions, still highly dependent on caregivers, unwilling to stay away from parents, and fearful.

The inability of the brain to process a stimulus leads to social and emotional child developmental delays. Conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, too affects a child’s ability to learn, express, and interact. Check out if your child has any of these disorders and follow the prescribed mode of treatment.

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Parents should also closely work with a child to help him make up for delayed emotional and social development. Such children need more family support. Identify drawbacks and encourage your child to develop social skills and read social cues. Help him end his emotional fear and teach him to make new friends and interact with them. Behavioral therapy can be a good way to help the child cope with social and emotional challenges.

Child Developmental Delays: Understanding and Thinking

A child with delayed cognitive development is likely to lag behind in intellectual ability. He may experience learning and awareness problems. It impacts his ability to understand, answer questions, and play with friends.

The most common symptoms of cognitive development delay include:

  • 0-8 months: Unable to focus on moving objects, anticipate events, seek attention, show interest in interactive play, recognize faces, repeat pleasurable actions, respond to familiar voice, and imitate sounds.
  • 8 to 12 months: No discernible happiness when the baby comes across toys or parents, does not look interested in searching for objects taken away from his sight, does not pay attention to other children of his age, has a limited eye contact, does not respond to gestures, does not look happy to play with toys or look at colorful pictures.
  • 12 to 24 months: Fails to understand how a toy functions, does not respond to gestures or sounds, is unable to stick to an activity, is not interested in playing with toys but eager to watch or put them in the mouth, and is in constant need of parental guidance.
  • 24 to 36 months: Unable to copy a circle, abide by directions, play with toys properly, do basic organization, and show interest in games.
  • 36 to 48 months: Not able to recognize or differentiate between colors and shapes, play interactive games, draw a circle, or sort and categorize objects.
  • After 48 months: No understanding of past, present, and future, at basic stage of color, number, or shape identification, not able to follow rules of basic preschool games, unable to tell about himself and friends or count more than 5-6 objects, not able to understand and do school assignments properly, and trouble staying focused.

Unless related to birth defects, chromosomal disorders, or shaken baby syndrome may have similar symptoms. Environmental factors too contribute to child developmental delays in children.

Parents must help and support their kids to overcome cognitive developmental delays at the earliest. Play with your child, talk to him, teach him, and help him develop awareness. Enroll your child for special cognitive education or play therapy. Enhanced parental attention can help children catch up with their friends.

Ravneet Kaur
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Ravneet Kaur

Ravneet is a proficient author on mindful parenting, child psychology, and pregnancy-related issues. Her practical writing focuses on helping parents develop a compassionate understanding of child behavior and build strong family bonds. She also researches and writes on women’s health, pregnancy problems, relationship issues, teens, and child development and education.
Ravneet also blogs at
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