5 Types Of Developmental Delays In Children & Ways To Manage

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Developmental delay in children should be evaluated by a pediatrician. Delays are diagnosed when they take longer to reach developmental milestones (age-specific skills) than expected of their age. That said, each child is unique, and a little delay in attaining milestones is not a reason to worry (1).

However, if children are continuously lagging in their movement, communication, behavior, and thinking and learning abilities, it might indicate an underlying problem. If the developmental delay is long-term, it might be called a developmental disability, such as intellectual disability or cerebral palsy (2).

In this post, we discuss the types, causes, symptoms, diagnoses, and ways to help a child with developmental delay.

What Are The Types Of Developmental Delay In Children?

Developmental delays occur in five areas. When a child shows delay in more than one development area, it is known as global developmental delay. The types of developmental delays are:

1. Cognitive delay: Cognitive delay may affect the intellectual function of children, causing a decline in their ability to think, learn, and solve problems. The condition may also cause learning and comprehension and understanding delays and difficulties, which become evident when children start going to school or even earlier. (3) (4) (5) (6).

Causes of cognitive delay

  • Genetic disorders, where children may inherit mutated genes. For example, Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome
  • Injury during pregnancy or the child’s inability to develop properly in the womb
  • Problems during birth, such as inadequate oxygen (birth hypoxia) or intracranial bleeds or hemorrhage.
  • Health conditions, such as malnutrition, untreated meningitis, whooping cough, seizure disorders, shaken baby syndrome, and exposure to lead or mercury

Signs of cognitive delay

  • Delay in sitting, crawling, or walking
  • Speech delays
  • Inability to pay attention for long
  • Inability to solve simple problems
  • Absence of logical thinking or completing simple tasks
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to think logically and understand social rules
  • Infantile behavior

Treatment for cognitive delay

  • Play therapy (teaching skills through play)
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Behavioral therapy (different therapies to treat mental health disorders)
  • Parental interventions

2. Motor delay: Children with difficulty in fine and gross motor skills find it difficult to coordinate large muscles (arms and legs) and small muscles (hands) (4) (6) (7) (8).

Causes of motor delay

  • Conditions affecting muscles, such as muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy
  • Problems with body structure
  • Birth hypoxia and intracranial hemorrhage
  • Prolonged labor

Signs of motor delay

  • Infants have problems with crawling and rolling over
  • Inability to control head and neck
  • Stiffness in muscles, difficulty in walking, and scissor gait
  • Speech problems
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Improper body posture
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty in running
  • Problems climbing up and down the stairs
  • Difficulty in holding something, picking small objects, and tying shoes

Treatment for motor delay

  • Physical therapy (develops gross and fine motor skills)
  • Occupational therapy (develops fine motor skills and sensory integration problems)
  • In mild cases, physical activity and play also help

3. Socioemotional delay: Socioemotional delay affects the social and emotional skills of children, making it difficult for them to interact with others and communicate their thoughts and feelings (4) (6) (8).

Causes of socioemotional delay

  • Neurobehavioral disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders

Signs of socioemotional delay

  • Infants do not respond to waves or smiles
  • No eye contact
  • No social interaction
  • Repetitive movements
  • Scared of new people
  • Difficulty in starting a conversation with others
  • Inability to calm down and adapt to change
  • Prolonged tantrums

Treatment of socioemotional delay

  • Attachment therapy (counseling children, parents, and caregivers to build attachment)
  • Play therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Skill-oriented therapy (focusing on developing skills)

4. Speech and language delay: Children with delayed speech and language skills find it difficult to communicate with others and understand words and concepts (4) (6) (8) (9).

Causes of speech and language delay

  • Oral motor problems, such as weak muscles of the mouth
  • Problems with tongue and jaw movement, leading to speech production disorder
  • Brain damage (cerebral palsy)
  • Hearing loss
  • Genetic disorders
  • Environmental factors such as lack of stimulation
  • Being a twin
  • Living in a bilingual home (children find it difficult to interpret two languages simultaneously)

Signs of speech and language delay

  • Reduced vocabulary
  • Delay in initial speech, such as saying simple words “papa” and “mama”
  • Inability to form age-appropriate sentences
  • Doesn’t talk
  • Delay in expressing thoughts

Treatment of speech and language delay

5. Adaptive delay: Children with adaptive developmental delay find it difficult to learn age-appropriate life skills (self-help skills). As a result, it becomes challenging for them to live an independent life (10).

Causes of adaptive delay

  • Premature birth, leading to slow muscle development
  • A genetic condition such as Down syndrome
  • Nerve and muscle disorders, such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Problems with gross and fine motor skills
  • Delay in acquiring cognitive skills

Signs of adaptive delay

  • Inability to manage daily activities, such as feeding, dressing, or brushing teeth
  • Speech and language difficulties
  • Problems with reasoning and problem solving
  • Lacking organizational skills, such as following a routine or completing assignments

Treatment for adaptive delay

  • Physical therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Occupational therapy (focuses on self-help skills)
  • Sensory practice to allow children adapt to the surroundings

How Is Developmental Delay Diagnosed In Children?

Healthcare providers use developmental screening to diagnose the challenges children are experiencing. The process followed is (1) (11):

  • Knowing the medical history: Parents may be interviewed to gain information about the medical details, medical issues, birth defects, medications, and surgeries their children might have had.
    The health professional may also want to know the details about parents’ medical history or health condition. They may also want details about the mother’s pregnancy, maternal infections, or other related problems.
  • Physical examination: Doctors may examine children to check their physical health and general appearance. They may check their head, eyes, skin, muscle movement, speech, and other characteristics to rule out the possibility of any disorder.
  • Developmental assessment: A developmental-behavioral pediatrician may assess children’s behavior, social skills, focusing abilities, language skills, and learning abilities to check the presence or absence of disorders, such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, or learning disorders. Some of these developmental tests include ADOS (for autistic children), Denver developmental test, and Batelle developmental test.
  • Hearing test: The healthcare provider may also refer children to an audiologist to check hearing abilities that affect language and speech. In young infants, brain stem evoked potential tests are performed. The audiologist may perform different tests based on the child’s age. If a problem is diagnosed, children are referred to a specialist for further treatment.

There are no specific laboratory tests to determine the developmental delay in children. However, based on the developmental screening, pediatricians advise further testing and steps for treatment.

How To Deal With Developmental Delay In Children?

Apart from the therapies, some other strategies used to address developmental delay are (12):

  • Breaking down essential skills into small steps and giving clear instructions to children
  • Repeating instructions and giving adequate time to complete the task
  • Rewarding for accomplishments
  • Teaching interpersonal skills
  • Using visual instructions, such as pictures, posters, and videos
  • Using gestures
  • Integrating learning with fun
  • Providing supportive environment
  • Taking the help of parents to understand children
  • Observing children understand unexpressed signs and signals

The team of professionals that may help children attain their full potential includes pediatricians, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers, audiologists, speech pathologists, special education teachers, and occupational therapists (2).

Can Children Overcome Developmental Delay?

Although there is no cure for developmental delay, early intervention may help children overcome the challenges more effectively. The progress depends on the degree of delay and effectiveness of the interventions. In addition, management and treatment are slow and require parents’ persistence to continue therapy for months and years.

Children with mild developmental delay and without any sign of physical problems may improve with the help of close monitoring and appropriate stimulation activities.

However, children with high-risk developmental disorders and signs of chronic illness may need support from specialists and therapists (13) (14).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can a child outgrow developmental delay?

Yes, most developmental delays may resolve as the child grows older. However, it is crucial to carefully follow the delay until it resolves or shows signs of deterioration (15).

2. Does delayed development mean autism?

No, all developmental delays are not termed as autism. Developmental delay may be isolated (delay in developing a certain aspect of a milestone) or global developmental delay (a significant delay in at least two developmental aspects below five years of age). Autism spectrum disorder is a group of diverse conditions that arise due to problems with the development of the brain (14) (16).

Early diagnosis and prompt and prolonged treatment can have a great impact on the development and learning of children with developmental delays. While each child reaches a milestone at their own pace, you may consider getting a doctor’s opinion if you notice long-lasting or persistent delays. The therapy for developmental delays needs consistent efforts to yield results. The process may be taxing for you and can take a toll on you. So, do not forget to care for yourself while caring for your child and seek professional help or help from your loved ones if you feel overwhelmed.

Key Pointers

  • Cognitive, motor, socioemotional, speech and language, and adaptive delays are the types of developmental delays in children.
  • Developmental screening includes a medical history assessment, physical and developmental assessment, and hearing test.
  • In addition to developmental therapies, you can teach and encourage your child to help them attain their full potential.
  • Children with high-risk developmental issues and chronic disease signals may require assistance from specialists and therapists.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Developmental Delay in Children.
  2. Developmental Delay.
  3. What are developmental delays?
  4. Types of Developmental Delays in Children.
  5. What are Cognitive Developmental Delays?
  6. Developmental Delays.
  7. Is Your Baby’s Physical Development on Track?
  8. Addressing the Types of Developmental Delays.
  9. Speech and Language Delay.
  10. What are Adaptive or Self-help Developmental Delays?
  11. Diagnosing Developmental Delays in Children.
  12. Developmental Delay.
  13. Developmental Delay (DD) – Diagnosis and Prognosis.
  14. Ying Ying Choo et al.; (2019); Developmental delay: identification and management at primary care level.
  15. Israr Khan and Bennett L. Leventhal; (2022); Developmental Delay.
  16. Autism.
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Pragya Bhargavi

Pragya Bhargavi has been in the field of content research, writing and editing for over five years. Her passion for academics and science has enabled her to write creative as well as research-based articles. She has completed her Masters in Microbiology from Bangalore University and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Education (B.Ed) from Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur. As a writer at... more

Dr. Mubina Agboatwalla

Dr. Mubina Agboatwalla is a well-known pediatrician, practicing paediatrics since the last 20 years in Karachi Pakistan. She is the head of the department of Pediatrics in Karachi Liaquat Hospital, as well as her private practice in three specialist clinics in Pediatrics. She is also a Public Health Specialist specializing in preventive health including nutrition, breastfeeding and infectious diseases especially... more