What Is a Developmental Delay?

A developmental delay is when your child falls behind their peers in one or more areas of emotional, mental, or physical growth. If your child' development is delayed, early treatment is the best way to help them make progress or even to catch up.

There are many types of developmental delays in infants and young children. They include problems with:

  • Language or speech
  • Vision
  • Movement – motor skills.
  • Movement – motor skills
  • Thinking – cognitive skills
  • Sometimes, there is a significant delay in two or more of these areas. When that happens, it’s called "global developmental delay." It refers to infants and preschoolers up to age 5 who show delays lasting at least 6 months.

    Developmental delays are different from developmental disabilities, which include such conditions as cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and autism spectrum disorder, which usually last for life.

    Motor skill developmental delays may be related to problems with gross motor skills, such as crawling or walking, or fine motor skills, such as using fingers to grasp a spoon. By 3 to 4 months of age, most children can reach for, grasp, or hold objects.

Developmental Delay Causes

Little children learn to crawl, talk, or use the toilet at different speeds. But sometimes a child may reach those milestones much later than other kids. There are many reasons for such delays, including:

  • Being born prematurely
  • Genetic conditions like Down syndrome or muscular dystrophy
  • Poor eyesight or hearing
  • Malnutrition
  • A mother's alcohol or drug use during pregnancy
  • Physical abuse or neglect
  • Lack of oxygen during delivery


From the moment babies are born, they respond to the world around them. Their reactions — being calmed by a parent's embrace or startled by a loud sound — are examples of normal infant development. Health professionals use milestones to tell if a baby is developing as expected. There's a wide range of what's considered

Health professionals use milestones to tell if a baby is developing as expected. There's a wide range of what's considered normal, so some babies may gain skills earlier or later than others. Babies who were born prematurely may reach milestones later. Always talk with your doctor about your baby's progress.

Here's what your newborn might do:

Communication and Language Skills

  • turns his or her head toward a parent's voice or other sounds
  • cries to communicate a need (to be held or fed, to have a diaper changed, or needing to sleep)
  • stops crying when a need is met (when picked up, fed, changed, or put down for a nap)

Movement and Physical Development

  • moves in response to sights and sounds
  • rooting reflex: turns toward breast or bottle and sucks when a nipple is placed in the mouth
  • Moro reflex (startle response): when startled, stretches arms and legs out, then curls them back in
  • fencer's pose (tonic neck reflex): when head is turned to one side, straightens the arm on that side while bending the opposite arm
  • grasp reflex: holds a finger placed in the palm; toes curl when touched on the sole of the foot

Social and Emotional Development

  • soothed by a parent's voice and touch
  • has periods of alertness

Cognitive Skills (Thinking and Learning)

  • looks at faces when quiet and alert
  • follows faces

When Should I Call the HEALTH WORKER?

Every child develops at their own pace. But if something concerns you, tell your doctor. Also, tell the doctor if your baby:

  • doesn't suck well at the breast or on a bottle nipple
  • has an arm or leg that seems weaker than the other
  • is very fussy or hard to soothe