What are developmental delays?
Developmental delay occurs when your child does not reach his or her developmental milestones at the expected time. Developmental regression occurs when your child loses a previously acquired developmental skill. Children with developmental delay or regression that is persistent and continual should be seen by a professional in the field.
What types of developmental delays are there?
The 4 main domains of development include:
- Gross motor (e.g. pulling to stand, crawling, walking)
- Fine motor (e.g. reaching for objects, stacking blocks, using a crayon)
- Language (receptive language referring to what your child understands and whether or not he can obey commands, and expressive language referring to how your child expresses himself, for example using gestures, words, phrases and sentences)
- Social skills (e.g. responding when his or her name is called, waving, eye contact, play skills).
Developmental delays can occur in isolation, or as part of global developmental delay, in which a child is delayed in 2 or more domains.
How can I tell if my child has developmental delays?
In infancy and early childhood, boys and girls generally develop at the same pace. While there is usually an age range for each developmental milestone to be achieved, there are certain red flags for which a child should be reviewed by a professional, for example, not walking, saying single words, pointing or responding to his or her name when called, by 18 months of age. One handy tool is the CDC’s milestone tracker app.
What can I do to reduce the likelihood of them having these delays?
Brain growth is most rapid during the early years of a child’s life. A child’s brain grows to about 80% of the adult size by 3 years of age, and about 90% of the adult size by 5 years of age. During these formative years, it is important that the child is in an environment that stimulates development.
Research has shown that children learn best through structured play. Language is stimulated through hearing the language spoken to them often, through play, everyday conversations, nursery rhymes and songs, as well as reading together with your child. Promoting adequate sleep duration and good sleep quality is also important. Finally, screen time should be kept to a minimal, and that includes educational programmes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for a child less than 18 months. If a parent wishes to introduce screen between 18 to 24 months, they should co-watch (watch together) with the child, choose high quality programmes, and limit screen time to less than 1 hour a day for children 2 years old and older.
Are there cures/measures to help my child?
Early and regular intervention has been shown to maximize the potential of children with developmental delays. Identifying a child’s difficulties and institution of appropriate therapy early is key to improving his or her development. In children with low iron or vitamin D, correcting the deficiency may help as well. In children whom an underlying cause may be present, treatment and management of the underlying problem may help his or her overall development.
Dr Charmaine Teo is a Paediatrician at SBCC Baby & Child Clinic with a special interest in Child Development.
Dr Teo was previously in the Child Development Unit at the NUH and has worked with children with a wide variety of developmental and behavioural problems, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning difficulties, developmental delays, as well as developmental issues in children born prematurely or with chronic medical conditions.