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Addressing the Types of Developmental Delays

Addressing the Types of Developmental Delays

Children progress at their own pace through developmental milestones. It’s not uncommon for a child to be a little behind others of a similar age in hitting these milestones. They usually catch up after a while. 

A developmental delay is when a child is consistently behind peers in reaching milestones in an area of development. 

There are four major types of developmental delays. They are cognitive; sensorimotor; speech and language; and socioemotional delays. Signs of a developmental delay are usually first noticed before age 2.

It is possible for a child to have a disorder that results in more than one type of developmental delay, affecting more than one area of functioning. In these instances, we say the child has a global developmental delay.

Risk Factors of Developmental Delays

There is ongoing research to identify risk factors of developmental delays. Some of the ones we already know are:

  • Genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy.
  • Maternal infections, such as chickenpox and rubella, during pregnancy. Both are listed by the CDC as risk factors of cerebral palsy.
  • Maternal use of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.
  • Lack of oxygen to the baby during delivery.
  • Premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Shaken baby syndrome.
  • Vision and hearing disabilities.
  • Nutritional deficiency and malnutrition.
  • Untreated childhood disease, such as whooping cough and meningitis.
  • Exposure to poisons, such as lead and mercury.
  • Physical abuse or neglect.

Helping a child cope with a developmental delay requires the earliest possible intervention. Early intervention services fall under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under the act, a child up to age 2 and their family may be eligible for special services. Accessing early intervention services is covered at the end of this article.

Here is a closer look at each of the four major groups of developmental delays.

Cognitive Delays

Cognitive delays affect a child’s intellectual functioning – their thinking and reasoning.

How is a child’s functioning affected?

A child with a cognitive developmental delay may have trouble following simple instructions. They may also have difficulty speaking, as well as imitating words and actions. Playing and communicating with others may prove to be a challenge. They may lack the level of awareness and curiosity seen in similarly aged children. They may display an inability to remember things and seem to not understand what common items, such as a spoon, are used for.

Common Cognitive Developmental Disorders

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Fragile X Syndrome (FXS)
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Learning Disability

Interventions/Treatments for Cognitive Developmental Disorders

Therapists often use play therapy and behavioral therapy to help a child with cognitive delays. Parents may be shown play and behavioral therapy methods to use at home with their child.

 

Sensorimotor Delays

Sensorimotor delays may affect a child’s gross and fine motor skills. A child’s ability to process sensory information may also be affected.

 

How is a child’s functioning affected?

Gross motor skills are performed by large muscles in the body. As such, a sensorimotor delay that affects gross motor skills might result in infants having difficulty rolling over, holding their head up, or crawling. For an older child, it can interfere with how they walk, make their way up and down stairs, throw a ball, or run. 

 

Delays in fine motor skill development mostly affect the muscles of the fingers. A child with this kind of delay may have difficulty writing, picking up small objects, holding a spoon, or tying their shoes, for example.

 

The child may have generally stiff and limited movements in the arms and legs. Additionally, a child who does not follow objects with both eyes or respond to loud sounds may have a sensorimotor delay.

 

Common Sensorimotor Developmental Disorders

  • Hearing Impairment
  • Sight Impairment
  • Ataxia
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Myopathy
  • Spina bifida
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy

Interventions/Treatments for Sensorimotor Developmental Disorders

Recommended treatments include physical therapy for gross and fine motor skill development. Occupational therapy is often prescribed for fine motor skill development. It may be used in cases where a child has a sensory processing disorder as well.

 

Socioemotional Delays

Socioemotional delays may be manifested in how a child interacts with others. They may also affect how a child interprets the emotions of others.

 

How is a child’s functioning affected?

A child with socioemotional delays may have difficulty understanding social cues, starting or carrying on conversations, or coping with change or frustration.

 

Furthermore, a child may be unable to cope with socially and emotionally demanding situations. This may lead to extended tantrums with the child being unable to self-regulate and calm down.

 

Parents may notice a potential socioemotional delay when an infant does not point or does not return their waves, smiles, or other gestures. Their child may be frightened by new faces or seem indifferent to those around them — another possible sign. 

 

Common Socioemotional Developmental Disorders

  • Autism
  • Asperger's disorder
  • Social-emotional processing disorder
  • Social communication disorder
  • Non-verbal learning disorder
  • Alexithymia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)

Interventions/Treatments for Socioemotional Developmental Disorders

Caregivers of a child with an attachment disorder are shown ways to build attachment. Other interventions for helping a child with socioemotional developmental disorders include:

 

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Skill-oriented therapy
  • Play therapy

Medication may also be used to treat socioemotional developmental disorders. This is usually reserved for cases where the child displays problematic behaviors.

 

Speech and Language Delays

Speech and language delays can affect a child’s ability to communicate with and understand others.

 

How is a child’s functioning affected?

Difficulty understanding words or concepts may be a sign of a speech and language delay. Other signs include reduced vocabulary and sentence complexity. So, too, is the inability to express their own thoughts. 

 

Parents may notice that an infant does not babble or talk. An older child may be slow to create sentences and may only imitate speech they hear and not say words on their own. Weakness in the muscles of the mouth may interfere with the physical actions of speech. So, too, does difficulty moving the tongue or jaw.

 

Common Speech and Language Developmental Disorders

  • Speech Production Disorder
  • Receptive Language Disorder or Wernicke's Aphasia
  • Expressive Language Disorder
  • Childhood Apraxia of Speech
  • Dysarthria
  • Autism

Interventions/Treatments for Speech and Language Developmental Disorders

Treatment is most often preceded by an evaluation conducted by a speech-language pathologist. They may check the child’s hearing, as well as their receptive and expressive language. Intervention is usually in the form of speech and language therapy. Parents may be given specific exercises or steps to practice with their child at home.

 

Early Intervention Service Coordination with ECCM

Developmental delays may be temporary. In such instances, the child “catches up” and displays age-appropriate development and learning. But, a delay may be a marker for a long-term condition, such as a disorder or disability.

Early intervention is the key, in either case. It helps a child with a delay reach their highest level of functioning in a developmental area.


This requires:

  • Screening for developmental delays.
  • A therapy plan that connects an affected child and caregivers to qualified providers.
  • Monitoring a child’s progress to ensure they achieve the very best results.


Understandably, parents may find it difficult to navigate all of this on their own. This makes ECCM”s
Early Intervention Service Coordination a valuable and welcomed asset.

Reach out to ECCM today. We can help you access the early intervention services you and your child need.

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