Developmental delay

5 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

Babies and children usually learn important skills as they develop. In fact, during the first five years of their lives, most children develop more skills than at any other time.

These skills are known as ‘developmental milestones’ and usually happen at fairly predictable ages. A child with developmental delay is much slower in reaching one or more of these milestones than expected.

In this article

Important milestones

Some parents and carers think their child is not developing as they ought to be, or they have been told that their child has developmental delay or global developmental delay.

The key areas of development are:

The tables in our development delay poster [PDF] list the ages by which most children will have gained certain skills in the four key areas of development.

If your child has not reached these milestones by these ages, talk about it with your health visitor or GP.

Why might a child be slow in development?

A child’s development can be slower than others for various reasons. For example:

If a child’s progress slows for a while and there seems to be a reason, this is not necessarily a cause for concern. But if the delay is persistent, or happens for no obvious reason, it is important that you seek advice so that any necessary help can be given as soon as possible.

Types of delay

Delay might be specific to one particular area of development. For example, children with muscular dystrophy will have specific delays in their physical skills. Children on the autistic spectrum will be slow in developing personal, social and communication skills.

A child may be described as having global developmental delay (GDD) if they are slow in reaching two or more milestones in all areas of development – see our milestones poster [PDF].

What to do if you are concerned?

It is well known that parents are often the first to realise that their child is not developing in an expected way.

If you are worried about your child’s progress you should talk to your health visitor or GP.

It can be helpful to have your Personal Child Health Record with you. Your health visitor or GP might suggest activities you can do with your child to support their development. This might be all that is needed.

However, if after four to six weeks, or after having tried the activities, you are still worried, go back and tell your health visitor or GP.

It is important that different types of delay are identified as early as possible so that support can begin, tailored to your child’s specific needs.

Who can help?

If your child is referred for further assessment, they could be seen by a paediatrician, who is a doctor specialising in children’s health and wellbeing. The paediatrician might order tests for specific conditions that could be causing the delay in their development. You might also see a:

The professionals are likely to ask questions about how your child has developed since birth and may want to spend time observing and possibly giving them one or more developmental assessments.

If you have been recording your child’s progress in their Personal Child Health record, they will find this information useful.

If the specialist says there is nothing to worry about but you are still concerned, do go back to them or talk to your GP.

Meeting other families

Parents often report feeling lonely and isolated and that other people do not understand what they are going through.

Families often find it helpful to get in contact with others who are going through, or have been through, similar experiences. Parents frequently say that other parents have been their best source of information and support. Find out more about parent support groups.