Children and Developmental Delays

Most parents have wondered at one time or another: is my child developing normally? That is an important question, since developmental delays can be treated and corrected if addressed early.

An infant has a developmental delay if he or she is behind other children in cognitive, communication, physical, social and self-help skills. Sometimes parents notice slow development first. Other times it’s caregivers or pediatricians who notice that a baby is falling behind. Developmental delays can affect a child’s self-esteem and behavior later on in life. For example, a child who can’t communicate as effectively as his peers may be more likely to act out or have tantrums due to frustration.

It’s important to treat developmental delays as soon as possible. Waiting until a child is in school may be too late. It’s possible to start treating slow development when a child not yet a year old. Your pediatrician can refer you to specialists who can evaluate your child. In turn, those specialists can recommend physical, speech or occupational therapy to help your child catch up.

The easiest way to determine if a child is developing slowly is to compare her to another child the same age. Unfortunately that is not the best way to do it. Every child develops differently. Just because the 10-month-old down the street is walking, doesn’t mean your 10-month-old should be walking too. But if a baby or toddler is noticeably far behind other children their age, then it may be time to consider a developmental delay.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has come up with guidelines to help you determine if your baby is developing slowly. Remember, not every child will follow these guidelines to the letter. Talk to your pediatrician if your newborn baby shows any of the following signs:

  • Sucks poorly and feeds slowly
  • Doesn’t blink when shown a bright light
  • Doesn’t focus and follow a nearby object moving side to side
  • Rarely moves arms and legs; seems stiff
  • Seems excessively loose in the limbs, or floppy
  • Lower jaw trembles constantly, even when not crying or excited
  • Doesn’t respond to loud sounds

At three months, does your baby:

  • Make jerky or uncoordinated movements with one or both of his arms or legs, or use only one arm all the time.
  • Fail to make sounds such as gurgling, cooing, babbling, or other noises besides crying?
  • Fail to respond to your voice?

At six months, does your baby:

  • Fail to play with her hands by touching them together?
  • Fail to turn his head to sounds that originate out of his immediate area?
  • Refuse to roll over from her stomach to her back or from back to stomach?
  • Fail to support his weight on outstretched hands?
  • Fail to see small objects such as crumbs?

Federal law states that children with developmental delays or disabilities must have access to therapy and special schooling without cost, or at a reduced cost. Ask your pediatrician or talk to your school district about these early-intervention programs for developmentally delayed children.

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