Developmental Delay: Condition Overview

What is developmental delay? 

Patients with Developmental delay are examined in the Neurosciences Institute

Developmental delay refers to a child who has not gained the developmental skills expected of him or her, compared to others of the same age. Delays may occur in the areas of motor, speech and language, cognitive, play, and social skills. Global developmental delay means a young child has significant delays in two or more of these areas of development. 

The terms developmental delay or global development delay are used to describe younger children before school age. Importantly, a diagnosis of developmental delay generally does not predict later intelligence. 

What causes developmental delay?

There is not one cause for delays in development. Factors that may contribute can occur before a child is born, during the birth process,and after birth. For example:

  • Genetic or hereditary conditions like Down syndrome
  • Metabolic disorders like phenylketonuria (PKU)
  • Trauma to the brain like shaken baby syndrome or severe head injury
  • Severe psychosocial trauma like post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Exposure to certain toxic substances like prenatal alcohol exposure or lead poisoning
  • Some very serious infections
  • Deprivation of food or environment

In some cases, it may not be possible to find the cause ofthe developmental delay.

Resources for developmental delay

  • The Child Development Unit at Children's Hospital Colorado
  • Early Intervention Colorado matches families with counselors and therapists.
  • ARC of Colorado is an advocacy group for children and adults with intellectual disability. They can be reached at (303) 864-9334.
  • The Centers for Disease Control’s First Signs program offers help in identifying symptoms of developmental delay in kids and other medical information about other intellectual conditions.