What Every Parent Needs to Know About Developmental Delays
By Maria Emerson, MA, CCC-SLP, Director
Virtua Pediatric Early Intervention Program
Every parent knows that no two children are exactly alike. Kids have unique personalities that impact their development and influence when they hit key milestones. It can be difficult to determine whether a child is simply progressing at his own rate. Or, is actually experiencing a developmental delay that could benefit from early intervention. To complicate it more, some children are experiencing communication and social/emotional delays due to social isolation because of COVID-19.
What should parents look for?
Some children with developmental delays begin showing obvious signs early on, such as difficulty with talking, eating or walking. Other children show more subtle signs that can be easy to miss. To identify developmental delays, look for these signs within the six major areas of childhood development:
- Gross motor. Gross motor skills, such as crawling, throwing or walking, should become easier and more fluid as your child gets older. If your child is making jerky movements or has trouble with balance, you should talk to your doctor.
- Fine motor. Fine motor skills involve smaller actions, such as picking up a spoon or holding a toy. If your child is struggling to grasp and hold things or always uses the same hand, he or she may be experiencing a fine motor delay.
- Adaptive. Adaptive delays occur when children are unable to engage in age-appropriate self-care skills, such as feeding themselves, using the toilet, getting dressed or even helping around the house. Lack of progress in these areas may be cause for concern.
- Communication. Language and speech problems are the most common types of developmental delay. Children with speech and language delays often have problems expressing themselves or understanding others.
- Social and emotional. Children with social and emotional delays often have problems expressing their emotions and have difficulty interacting with other children and adults.
- Cognitive. Children with cognitive delays may have problems with memory, attention span, retention of information, learning, following instructions, and imitating actions and words.
There can be many causes for these developmental delays, including hearing or vision problems, issues related to premature birth, physical conditions that impair muscle function, learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder. Identifying and addressing issues early can make a big impact on your child’s development.
How to get help
If you notice problems in your child’s development, first discuss the issue with your child’s pediatrician. He or she may recommend an evaluation for your child. However, you don’t need a physician’s referral to get your child evaluated, and you may schedule one whether or not your pediatrician recommends it.
The evaluation team from Virtua’s Pediatric Early Intervention Program (EIP) can help. Our experts work with children age birth to 3 to determine if they have developmental delays and what may be causing them. The team also provides information, support, and referrals to all types of medical specialists including vision experts, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, counselors, and ear, nose and throat doctors.
In New Jersey, early evaluations are free and can be scheduled by calling 888-653-4463. Because our staff wants to observe your child in his or her natural environment, we will perform the evaluation in your home (via telehealth or in-person following COVID-19 safety protocols) or at your child’s daycare or school. Most evaluations can be scheduled within two to three weeks.
The most important thing you can do for your child is to follow your instincts, even if your pediatrician or family members aren’t concerned. If you have a strong feeling that something isn’t right regarding your child’s development, don’t hesitate to seek help. Early intervention can play a huge role in your child’s development and success in early life and beyond.
Updated January 14, 2022