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Developmental delay

6 May 2022

Children with developmental delay take longer to develop new skills than most other children. If you think that your child might have developmental delay, see your GP or child and family health nurse. Health and education professionals can provide support to children with developmental delay.

What is developmental delay?

Some children develop slower than others in terms of physical abilities, emotions, social skills and communication. When this happens, it is called developmental delay. Developmental delay can show up as difficulty moving, communicating, thinking or learning. It might also mean that a child has problems interacting with others. Sometimes developmental delay is only temporary, but sometimes it is a sign of a longer-term problem. This problem might be called a developmental disability. Health professionals often use the term "developmental delay" to describe a child's condition until they know what is causing the delay.

What do I do if I think my child has a developmental delay?

Some children develop skills more slowly than others. This doesn't mean there is anything wrong. If you are concerned that your child is not developing skills as quickly as other children their age, then you should talk to a doctor. If you're worried about your child's development, talk to your doctor or another professional who can help. They will be able to diagnose developmental delay and give you tips on how to help your child.

Who helps children with developmental delay?

There are many people who can help children who have developmental delay. These people include your GP, child and family health nurse, paediatrician, audiologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers and special education teachers.

Most children can learn new skills quickly. But children with developmental delay often need to be shown skills in smaller steps, and they might need more time and opportunities to practice. One way to support your child is by providing opportunities for him or her to practice new skills. This might mean breaking tasks down into smaller steps or giving extra time for repetition. Whatever it looks like, making sure your child gets regular practice will help him or her progress developmentally. If your child has developmental delay, it's important to look after your own wellbeing and get support for yourself too. You will be better able to care for your child if you are physically and mentally well.

What causes developmental delay?

There are many different things that can cause children to develop more slowly than other children. This might be because of a genetic condition, like Down syndrome, or because of complications during pregnancy or birth. Other causes of short-term developmental delay include physical illness, long hospital stays, and family stress. In many cases, the cause of developmental delay is not known.