Developmental Delays: What to Look for, and How to Help Your Child

It’s back-to-school season! Each new school year brings exciting opportunities for growth. While every child develops and learns differently, sometimes delays become more noticeable when it’s time to head back to the classroom. There are many signs and symptoms of developmental delay, which often vary. It is important to know there are treatment options available, and at PTS, our therapists are dedicated to helping your child reach their full potential.

What is a developmental delay?

A developmental delay occurs when a child has not gained the skills expected of him or her when compared to his or her peers. Delays may occur in the areas of motor function, speech and language, cognition, play, and social skills. Global developmental delay means a child has significant delays in two or more of these areas.

What are common symptoms of a developmental delay? 

There are many symptoms that may indicate a developmental delay. These include: 

  • Trunk, arms, or legs that are too loose or too stiff, limiting movement or posture
  • Coordination problems including grasping or using a writing utensil, opening containers, or manipulating fasteners
  • Frequent loss of balance or poor muscle tone
  • Impaired social skills
  • Decreased independence with daily tasks like dressing or bathing
  • Shorter attention span than expected
  • Delayed basic reasoning and problem solving
  • Not able to communicate at age-appropriate level or struggles to understand receptive language
  • Does not know how to play or is uninterested in other children or their surroundings
  • Over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sounds, textures, or visual stimuli
  • Poor safety awareness or lack of understanding of the consequences of actions

What types of therapies are available to help my child catch up?

Luckily, there are many wonderful options to support your child’s development! These include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and sensory feeding therapy. 

  • Physical therapy focuses on gross motor and movement delays. 
    • Gross motor skills refer to things like standing up, walking, running, and managing stairs. 
    • Physical therapists work with your child to develop their muscles and physical health through strategies like play based exercises, stretching, and other treatments. 
  • Occupational therapy focuses on fine motor delays, sensory processing, and self care skills. 
    • Fine motor skills refer to the coordination of small muscles in our eyes, hands, and fingers, used for activities such as holding pencils or manipulating fasteners.  
    • Sensory processing allows for a child to function appropriately with their environment. 
    • Occupational therapists help children improve these skills in order to perform daily tasks like brushing teeth,putting on clothing, and learning effectively at school. 
  • Speech and language therapy focuses on understanding and producing language and speech sounds. 
    • Developing vocabulary, understanding words, and social communication through gestures and symbolic language all play a role in speech therapy.
    • Speech and language pathologists work with children to improve their communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal, through play-based interactions and home programming.
  • Sensory feeding therapy helps your child eat a wide variety of nutritious foods to support growth. 
    • Individuals with sensory feeding issues have difficulties eating various foods and therefore proper nutrition becomes a concern for them. 
    • Sensory feeding therapists help address these difficulties using play-based methods and parent education. 

What can I do if I believe my child has a developmental delay? 

If you are concerned about your child, the best first step is to call your pediatrician to learn more. Ask if an evaluation by a pediatric physical, occupational, or speech therapist might help. 

You can also talk to your child’s teacher to gain more information about your child’s behavior when they’re not at home. This can help you build a fuller picture of the situation and identify all items that may need to be addressed. Additional support may be available through your child’s school and in your community! 

Developmental delay can be short- or long-term. There are many different reasons a child may develop more slowly than expected but it is possible to outgrow or catch up from delays. PTS is ready to help.

If you believe your child could benefit from physical, occupational, or speech therapy, call 309-231-0676 or click here to contact our team of pediatric specialists. 

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