How to Tell when Developmental Delays Signal a Bigger Issue

For most parents, it seems like time flies far too fast as babies grow and develop. Most parents also have some level of concern for how their infant is developing physically and mentally, and are on the lookout for signs of developmental delays. It is common for parents to discuss and compare their little one’s progress toward crawling, walking, talking, and the joyous milestone of potty training. But how can parents determine if their little one is just a bit behind, or if there is a bigger issue causing him or her to fall behind peers?

What are Developmental Delays?

In order to tell if an infant is just moving at his or her own pace, or is falling behind the developmental milestones most pediatricians follow, it is important to understand what constitutes developmental delays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an established list of developmental milestones that help parents and healthcare providers ensure that infants and children are developing well. These developmental milestones include a baseline age range for target behaviors like crawling, walking, saying a certain number of words, identifying body parts, pretend play, etc.

It is also important to note that developmental delays can occur in any of the five traditional areas of development, being:

  • Cognitive
  • Social and Emotional
  • Language and Speech
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Fine Motor Skills

The CDC’s list of developmental milestones begins at six weeks and continues up until age seven. Parents will likely also discuss milestones and development at their regular pediatrician check-ups.

How to Recognize a Developmental Delay

Every child is different, and what works for one family to master a skill may not work as well for another. Comparing one child to another is not generally an accurate way of measuring development. One of the fantastic elements of parenthood is the uniqueness of each child. The CDC’s milestone guide presents the expected behaviors in a window of time, such as walking between nine to 15 months. That is not to say that a 16-month old infant who is not crawling with proficiency is delayed, however. At this point, a simple conversation with a pediatrician can assess the situation with ease.

There are, however, some warning signs that can alert parents to a deeper issue than just a child that moves at his or her own pace. Some “warning signs” include:

  • Behavioral: Signs of aggression toward others, self-harm, repetitive body movements, lack of social interaction, does not make eye contact
  • Gross Motor Skills: Clumsy, does not develop hand-eye coordination, stiffness or floppiness of arms and legs
  • Vision: Stares at unusual objects, turns head to one side while looking at something, places objects very close to face, does not pick up objects
  • Hearing: Does not respond to verbal or visual prompts, does not begin speaking or speech digresses, preference to listening with one ear, talks very loud or yells

While some of these signs could indicate a minor issue, illness, or simple defiance, others could indicate a serious underlying developmental condition.

What Causes Developmental Delays

Developmental delays can be the result of various factors. Some of the most common factors include:

  • Developmental delays can be caused by genetics (Down Syndrome, fragile X syndrome)
  • Medical conditions can also result in developmental delays. Common factors in this category include prematurity, fetal alcohol syndrome, medical conditions affecting the eyes, ears, or muscles
  • Developmental delays can also be caused by trauma, such as injuries to the infant before, during, or shortly after birth

What Parents can Do

Any time parents are concerned about development, the first step is contacting their pediatrician for advice. If their infant suffered an injury during birth, it may also be beneficial to contact a birth injury attorney to discuss the correlation between birth injuries and developmental delays.