Developmental Delay is when your child does not reach their developmental milestones at the expected times. It is an ongoing major or minor delay in the process of development. If your child is temporarily lagging behind, that is not called developmental delay. Delay can occur in one or many areas—for example, gross or fine motor, language, social, or thinking skills.

Developmental Delay is most often a diagnosis made by a doctor based on strict guidelines. Usually, though, the parent is the first to notice that their child is not progressing at the same rate as other children the same age. If you think your child may be “slow,” or “seems behind,” talk with your child’s doctor about it. In some cases, your pediatrician might pick up a delay during an office visit. It will probably take several visits and possibly a referral to a developmental specialist to be sure that the delay is not just a temporary lag. Your child’s doctor may use a set of screening tools during regular well-child visits.

Developmental delay can have many different causes, such asgenetic causes (like Down syndrome), or complications of pregnancy and birth (like prematurity or infections). Often, however, the specific cause is unknown. Some causes can be easily reversed if caught early enough, such as hearing loss from chronic ear infections, or lead poisoning.

  • Teaching the Young Child with Motor Delays: A Guide for Parents and Professionals , by Marci Swanson and Susan Harris. This book is a useful guide in choosing development tasks to work on with your delayed child. It contains a lot of detail on breaking down large developmental goals into small, attainable steps. There is a large section devoted to outlining “objectives”, giving suggestions on how to attain them, and examples of rewards. Uses clear and detailed examples.
  • When Your Child Has a Disability: The Complete Sourcebook of Daily and Medical Care , Revised Edition, by Mark Batshaw. A useful book to read and keep as a reference. Covers a wide range of medical and educational issues, as well as daily and long-term care requirements of specific disabilities. Discusses parent concerns like behavior, medication, and potential complications. Also addresses issues such as prematurity, early intervention, legal rights, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, genetic syndromes, and changes in health.

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A child with a developmental delay shall be three through eight years of age and who is experiencing developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: physical, cognitive, communication, social or emotional, or adaptive, which prevents the child from receiving reasonable educational benefit from general education.

It is often difficult to diagnose very young children. With early intervention and appropriate services, children may not need special education by the time they reach first grade. The Developmental Disability category allows preschoolers to benefit from special education and related services without being labeled with a specific disability.  It is important to know that, under IDEA, States and local educational agencies are allowed to use the term “developmental delay” with children aged 3 through 9, rather than one of the disability categories under IDEA. This means that, if they choose, States and local educational agencies do not have to say that a child has a specific disability. For children aged 3 through 9, a state and LEA may choose to include as an eligible “child with a disability” a child who is experiencing developmental delays in one or more of the following areas:

  • physical development,
  • cognitive development,
  • communication development,
  • social or emotional development, or
  • adaptive development…

…and who, because of the developmental delays, needs special education and related services.

“Developmental delays” are defined by the state and must be measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures.