A Helpful Guide on How to Help a Child With Developmental Delay

Childhood Facts Parents Must Know About

Life with children is full of surprises. One day they were just little bundles of joy and just like in the blink of an eye, they are already rocking back and forth with their hands and knees and the next thing you know is that they are already at full speed running.

However, living with kids is not always rainbows and butterflies. It does sometimes weigh too much and brings about unbearable pressure on parents. Especially for those who have a child with developmental delays—the situation might be tough but there’s a lot of help at hand and professional experts can support you in this pediatric journey.

This article talks about a child’s developmental delays, how to identify them, and of course giving the initial help for developmentally delayed children. Keep reading to know more about this rising issue for children nowadays and how a parent’s role can hugely affect their kids’ development.

What Are Developmental Delays?
How to Identify Developmental Delays in a Child
   The 5 Areas of Skill Development
When to Seek Professional Help
Steps on How to Help a Child With Developmental Delay
   First Steps
   Next Steps
In a Nutshell – What to Keep in Mind

Every child from birth goes through a series of developmental stages. While there are standards for these phases of their growth, it’s important to know that every child is different and that they grow and learn at their own pace. But these standards are helpful for you to know what skills your child has to have at a certain age, otherwise, you might want to read more about the early signs of developmental delays, which are discussed below.

What Are Developmental Delays?

Developmental delay is a condition when a child hasn’t reached a developmental milestone at a certain age he or she is expected to. There are particular skills or tasks that a child should ideally be having at a certain age—these are what we call developmental milestones.

Some delays aren’t serious which most kids can catch up to, especially when treated early. The key here is early detection and early treatment before the what-seems-to-be slight delay turns into something more serious. Talk to professional experts as soon as you notice something irregular in your child’s behavior that you think is bothersome as time goes by.

How to Identify Developmental Delays in a Child

Parents or caregivers are in the best position to identify any sign of irregularities or delays in the development of a child. Whether or not you are a first-time parent, you can somehow note any difference in the skills of your child compared to other children of the same age. If you have any related ongoing concerns, you may have your child professionally assessed. 
According to a publication from Singapore Medical Journal (SMJ) by Ying Ying Choo, MD et.al. developmental delays are normally identified through three major channels: during routine developmental surveillance or screening; following parental concern; and after third parties such as preschool teachers or nursery care professionals raise concerns.

The 5 Areas of Skill Development

There are five (5) main areas in which a child might be having issues with:

  1. Cognitive or thinking skills – These include learning, understanding, problem-solving, reasoning, and remembering. 

Signs: Early signs include children at school age with difficulty in remembering things, having trouble with problem-solving or logical thinking and the like.

  1. Speech and language skills – For some experts, these two are separately identified. Speech refers to the sounds that come out of a person’s mouth.

Signs: A child with speech delay may stutter or have trouble saying words the 

right way.

Language skills pertain to the meanings of sounds and gestures. Kids use their bodies, gestures and habits to communicate and that’s what language is, for them. 

Signs: Children with language disorders may have problems expressing themselves or understanding others, or simply talking late.

  1. Social and emotional skills – These are the ability of a child to interact with others, to show, respond and express feelings, building relationships with family and friends.

Signs: Children with social and emotional delays may have difficulty communicating or socializing with others. 

  1. Fine and gross motor skills – The ability to coordinate small and large muscles to explore the world like using hands to eat, draw, dress, play, write and do many other things. 

Signs: Children who are finding it difficult to use a lot of muscles to move like 

playing ball, or with smaller movements, like coloring can have developmental delays in their motor skills. The problem could have been linked to their coordination.

  1. Daily living activities – The ability to manage everyday tasks. 

Signs: If a child is still unable to do everyday tasks like getting dressed or using 

the restroom without help, this could also be a sign of a developmental delay.

When to Seek Professional Help


The early signs of developmental delays in children should help you to identify if your child’s skills are within the normal scope or not. Seek immediate advice from experts if: 

(1) it worries you so much, go to a primary health care center and see a pediatrician so there could be someone to confirm or evaluate your child as early as possible.

(2) if your child seems to be losing ground—meaning, he or she just starts to not be able to do things he or she could do before, see a doctor right away. Your nearest pediatrician should know who or where to consult for further assessment if needed.

Generally, according to ssmhealth.com some of the most common signs and symptoms of developmental delay include: 

  • Learning and developing more slowly than other children of the same age
  • Rolling over, sitting up, crawling, or walking much later than developmentally appropriate
  • Difficulty communicating or socializing with others
  • Lower than average scores on IQ tests
  • Difficulties talking or talking late
  • Having problems remembering things
  • Inability to connect actions with consequences
  • Difficulty with problem-solving or logical thinking
  • Trouble learning in school
  • Inability to do everyday tasks like getting dressed or using the restroom without help

Steps on How to Help a Child With Developmental Delay

Developmental delay can happen to anyone and may occur at a younger or later age. These delays may happen in one or more areas depending on the assessment or what they call developmental screening. 

Parents, legal guardians or caregivers are the primary persons who can help both the child and the doctors to achieve one common end goal—that is to help the child catch up and develop according to his or her age.

First Steps

  1. Use a Milestone Checklist.

If you are really in doubt about your child’s development, you may complete a milestone checklist you can download here or use a Milestone Tracker app, where you can elaborately see which area your child is falling behind (if there’s any).

  1. Talk to someone reliable.

Apart from doctors, look for someone who has gone through the same experience and learn everything based on facts and not just from hearsay. Don’t just randomly talk to others dismissing your worries by saying “it will just pass” or “don’t worry too much”. Share your concerns with someone who can understand.

  1. Ask about Developmental Screening

Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children can be screened as early as 9 months to 24 months or whenever a parent has a concern. Your doctor should know about developmental screening for children.

Next Steps

  1. Ask for a Referral and Evaluation

If your primary healthcare provider thinks your child might be having developmental delays, ask the doctor for a referral to a specialist who can perform a more thorough assessment and expect an evaluation after.

Doctors your child might be referred to include:

  • Developmental pediatricians
  • Child neurologists.
  • Child psychologists or psychiatrists
  1. Reach out to other parents.

If your child is diagnosed with a developmental delay or disability, remember that this is not the finish line and there are lots of things that you can still do about it. You can meet and interact with the parents of the children that have the same diagnosis as your child and talk about how they are coping and everything that can help you get through this circumstance.

  1. Home-workarounds:

As simple as reading stories or talking to your child can make a huge difference in helping your child get through this situation. Below are some helpful tips you can do at home to improve their skills in the 5 development areas as mentioned above:

  • Cognitive Skills:
  1. Give time to interact and play with them. 
  2. Have a consistent routine so they would know and be mindful of how to act and behave.
  3. Simplify instructions. 
  4. Teach new skills gradually.
  • Speech and Language Skills:
  1. Talk with them throughout the day. Ask them about what he had for lunch and let him talk as long as he wants. 
  2. Ask them questions and respond to their answers.
  3. Read to your child every day.
  4. Speech is related to hearing so confirm with a doctor about hearing problems he may have and treat any ear dysfunction right away. 
  • Social and emotional skills:
  1. Provide a supportive environment.
  2. Interact with the child one-on-one
  3. Integrate learning with fun
  4. Consider demonstrating a social skill that can be used during child play.
  5. Encourage social engagement with family and friends.
  6. Allow children to become accustomed to playing outdoors and indoors.
  • Motor skills:
  1. Encourage your little one to move and be active at home.
  2. Playing with play-dough
  3. Using finger paint
  4. Chores such as setting the table and wiping the table with a sponge
  5. Placing pegs in a board
  6. Playing with finger puppets
  7. Pouring juice into a cup
  • Daily living activities:
  1. Train him to take a bath and dress by himself.
  2. Include them in your simple household chores.
  3. Let him do self-feeding.


Children diagnosed with developmental delays may be recommended to undergo specific therapies to quickly manage the delays and help them catch up with their peers. Most of the time, developmental pediatricians are what is commonly referred to after the screening and evaluation. Specifically, below are the therapies that children with developmental delays (DD) or global developmental delays (GDD) undergo:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This is needed in some children for behavioral difficulties in which children are given strategies for reducing worries or fears and improving social and behavioral skills. 

  1. Speech and Language Therapy

Is used to help children with speech delay and who are having problems in the areas of understanding and producing language and speech sounds.

  1. Social Skills Therapy

This is an approach to control a child’s behavior and communicate more effectively. This therapy includes age-appropriate activities that build and reinforce children’s basic social skills.

  1. Occupational and Physical Therapy

These help in addressing problems in fine motor skills, sensory processing and self-help issues and also physical therapy for gross motor skills.

  1. Early Childhood Special Education

Early childhood special education provides stimulation for early developmental skills, including play skills.

In a Nutshell – What to Keep in Mind

When your child is diagnosed with developmental delay, remember that you are not alone. It is actually common in childhood, occurring in 10%–15% of preschool children, according to a paper published in SMJ by Pratibha Agarwal, MD, MMed, et.al. It may be a challenge but do keep in mind that there is always a remedy and available help for developmentally delayed children.

Seeking professional advice on how to help a child with developmental delay is never a mistake. 

What is essential here is to know and do what is best for your child as soon as possible. Early identification of developmental delays and appropriate management can significantly impact the child’s developmental path positively.