A developmental delay is any significant lag in a child's physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, or social development, in comparison with norms.
Developmental delay refers to when a child's development lags behind established normal ranges for his or her age. Sometimes the term is used for mental retardation, which is not a delay in development but rather a permanent limitation. If most children crawl by eight months of age and walk by the middle of the second year, then a child five or six months behind schedule in reaching these milestones may be classified as developmentally delayed regarding mobility.
At least 8 percent of all children from birth to six years have developmental problems and delays in one or more areas of development. Some have global delays, which means they lag in all developmental areas.
Doctors try to locate the source of the delay and then design a treatment plan. When the cause of a child's delay is identified, the pediatrician and family know better what to expect, and the child can begin to receive appropriate treatment and support. If the problem is a genetic disorder, then parents may seek genetic counseling regarding their decision on having additional children.
The doctor's assessment has various components. The following are some of them:
- Developmental assessment: The physician's review of a child's current competencies (including knowledge, skills, and personality), and consideration of the best ways to help the child develop further.
- Family assessment: Interpretation of a child's development from family members, as well as their ideas about priorities and concerns about the child's future development.
- Multidisciplinary assessment: The assessment by a group of professionals who work with the child and family, directly or indirectly. The assessment interprets different phases of a child's development and types of behavior and skills.
- Play-based assessment: This assessment involves observation of the child playing alone, with peers, or with parents or other familiar caregivers, in free play or in special games. Play provides a diagnostic framework within which children show abilities, feelings, learning style, and social skills in groups.