Developmental delay is the umbrella term used when we first become aware that a child is not achieving his / her developmental milestones as they should.
Before I focus further on developmental delay though, I’d like to just pause for a minute and elaborate on what we mean when we say that children are not reaching their milestones “as they should”. Each developmental task has a very broad age range for development and it is thus important not too panic if your child is not crawling / walking / talking / etc at the same time as the other children around him – familiarise yourself with the expected age range for developmental tasks and simply keep monitoring your child’s progress if they still fall within this age-range. Development does not always follow a typical pattern. Yes, most children learn to crawl before they walk but this is not always the case. Some children simply skip the crawling stage and go straight from bum-shuffling to walking or only crawl after they have learned to walk. Your child may seem delayed in one aspect of development only to then spontaneously catch up to their peers a short while later. Also, keep in mind that premature babies will always be slightly delayed and should be measured from the original expected date of birth, rather than on their actual birth date.
Regression is a red flag though! If your child had previously mastered a skill and then suddenly loses the ability to perform this skill it is very important to raise your concerns with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that developmental delay is not a final diagnosis. Once developmental delay has been confirmed we need to do further investigations to identify exactly what is causing the delay. There could be various causes of developmental delay including genetic problems, pregnancy or birth complications, deficiencies in diet, toxic substances such as alcohol or drug exposure, etc.
Early intervention is vital with all of these causes – schedule an initial appointment with your child’s paediatrician if your are concerned and they will be able to either allay your fears or refer you to the right professional for further investigation. Some disorders simply require the administration of a supplement such as vitamin B12 or vitamin D while others may require a full educational assessment of abilities or even genetic testing to further investigate what is causing the developmental delay.