What is a developmental delay?

A child’s growth is more than just physical. Children grow, develop, and learn throughout their lives, starting even before birth.

Childrens’ development can be followed by how they play, learn, speak, and behave.

What is a developmental delay

Checking for developmental delays

Your child’s growth and development are tracked through a partnership between you and your health professional. At each well-child visit, the doctor looks for developmental delays or problems and talks with you about any concerns you might have. This is called developmental monitoring (or surveillance). Any problems noticed during developmental monitoring should be followed up with developmental screening.

Kids with special health care needs should have developmental monitoring and screening just like those without special needs. Monitoring healthy development means paying attention not only to symptoms related to a child’s condition, but also to a child’s physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.

Developmental screening

Well-child visits allow doctors and nurses to have regular contact with children to keep track of your child’s health and development through periodic developmental screening.

Developmental screening is a short test to tell if a child is learning basic skills when he or she should, or if there are delays. Developmental screenings can also be done by other professionals in health care, community, or school settings.

What is a developmental delay?The doctor — such as a developmental pediatrician — may ask you some questions, or talk and play with your child during an examination to see how he or she plays, learns, speaks, behaves, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child visits at:

  • 9 months
  • 18 months
  • 24 or 30 months

Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birthweight, or other reasons.



If your child’s doctor does not routinely check your child with this type of developmental screening test, be sure to ask that it be done.

>> Your baby: Basic developmental milestones

Will my child just grow out of it?

Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving “bye bye” are all important developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in playing, learning, speaking, behaving, and moving (crawling, walking, etc.).

A developmental delay is when your child does not reach these milestones at the same time as other children the same age. If your child is not developing properly, there are things you can do that may help. Most of the time, a developmental problem is not something your child will “grow out of” on his or her own. But with help, your child could reach his or her full potential!

What is developmental screening?

Doctors and nurses use developmental screening to tell if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if they might have problems. Your child’s doctor may ask you questions or talk and play with your child during an exam to see how he or she learns, speaks, behaves, and moves.

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Since there is no lab or blood test to tell if your child may have a delay, the developmental screening will help tell if your child needs to see a specialist.

>> Does your baby have a developmental delay?

Why is developmental screening important?

When a developmental delay is not recognized early, children must wait to get the help they need, which can make it hard for them to learn when they start school. In the United States, 17 percent of children have a developmental or behavioral disability such as autism, intellectual disability or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

In addition, many children have delays in language or other areas. Unfortunately, less than half of children with problems are identified before starting school. During this time, these kids could have received help for their problems, and may even have entered school more ready to learn.

I have concerns that my child could have a developmental delay. How do I get a developmental assessment for my child?

The first step is to talk to your child’s doctor or nurse if you have concerns about how your child is developing. If you or your doctor think there could be a problem, you can take your child to see a developmental pediatrician or other specialist, and you can contact your local early intervention agency (for children under 3) or public school (for children 3 and older) for help.

>> Early Intervention: How to start the process

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To find out who to speak to in your area, you can check the Center for Parent Information and Resources site, produced under the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. If there is a problem, it is very important to get your child help as soon as possible.

How can I help my child’s development?

Proper nutrition, exercise, and rest are very important for children’s health and development. Providing a safe and loving home and spending time with your child — playing, singing, reading, and even just talking — can also make a big difference in his or her development.



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