Every child learns and develops at a different pace, but how do you know if your toddler has a developmental delay?

It seems like just yesterday when your baby is born – and now they’re ready to enter their first few years of life. This is a time of discovery for your inquisitive toddler as they explore the world and learn new things along the way. From learning how to feed and dress themselves, to communicating with family members and interacting with peers, your child’s cognitive, social and motor skills will begin to develop at a greater pace at this stage.

While it’s important to know that each child learns differently due to varying factors such as personality and environment, a consistent string of delays in meeting milestones may be a cause for concern. If you notice that your little one is falling behind as compared to other kids of their age, here’s what you should know.

What is a developmental delay?

A developmental delay is used to describe a child who does not reach their key developmental milestones as expected. This can be in the way they learn, think, move, behave and communicate. Although most cases are usually temporary and can be fixed, developmental delays can sometimes indicate an underlying condition that may pose challenges later on in life. This is referred to as a developmental disability.

A recent study shows that 1 in 6 children has developmental disabilities – a term that is characterised by mental or physical impairment that arises in the early years of childhood. Some of the common conditions that affect children are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dyslexia.

What are the causes of developmental delays?

There’s no one cause to pinpoint when it comes to developmental delays, but there are some risk factors that come into play. This can be due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including preterm labour, low birth weight and lack of oxygen at birth. It may be a result of genetics such as down syndrome, or other medical conditions like vision problems and ear infections. You also have to take into account environmental issues such as prenatal exposure to toxic substances like alcohol or drugs, severe trauma, as well as poor nutrition.

What are the signs to look out for?

Your child may exhibit signs of delays in the areas of speech and language, motor skills, cognitive skills, vision, social and emotional – or all of the aforementioned (this is known as a global developmental delay). Here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Learning or developing slower than other children
  • Difficulty communicating or socialising with others
  • Having trouble remembering words and forming sentences
  • Stiff movements and coordination problems
  • Failure to follow moving objects with both eyes
  • Inability to conduct everyday tasks without parental assistance


How should you seek help?

Being aware of the early signs can make a great difference in helping them to progress better and meet future milestones. If you suspect that something may be wrong with your child, it’s never too late to reach out for a professional opinion.

Share your concerns with your doctor so they can perform a developmental screening assessment and refer you to a specialist for a more in-depth evaluation, if necessary. Depending on the specific areas of delay, your child may be required to undergo a series of therapies to overcome their developmental issues – this can be in the form of occupational therapy to work on fine motor functions, or speech therapy to help them build better social skills. Remember, early treatment is key!