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Signs of developmental delay in children

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When you pick your child up from kindy, or watch them playing in the playground, it’s natural to compare them to other children their age.

“That child can do the monkey bars easily. My child can’t”. “My son can’t unpack his kindy school bag. He really struggles with the zips.”

Pre-school, kindy and pre-primary are such vital years for learning, with new skills developed as children experience different environments: early education centres, school, at playdates, and getting out and about.

Because of this, up to the age of five are a common time for identifying signs that children may need extra support. Your child’s early educator or teacher might raise concerns with you, or you yourself may have a niggling feeling that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the signs of developmental delay can be tricky to spot. As parents, you want to have the right information and support so that you can seek help if your child needs it.

What is global developmental delay?

Between ages 0 – 2 and 3 and 5, children typically reach universally-recognised milestones in their development. A delay or no presence of these milestones, could indicate a child has a developmental delay.

The signs of developmental delay can be tricky to spot. In the videos below, we’ve captured play-based activities that highlight some of the ‘invisible signs’ of developmental delay in children of different ages.

Signs of developmental delay in toddlers age 0 – 2

Signs of developmental delay in toddlers age 3 – 5

Does your child have trouble with tasks like holding a pencil?

When should a child be holding a pencil? Young children start showing an interest in holding a crayon around 12 – 18 months. As children develop, their grasp becomes more refined and they start to draw recognisable shapes and patterns.

In the second video, the first child does not grasp the pencil properly and cannot draw a person in basic lines and shapes. The second child grasps the pencil and draws a basic person figure, with an identified head and body. Drawing and handwriting calls upon many skills, such as cognition, fine motor, vision, and planning. For example, understanding what a person is and imagining what a person looks like to draw, planning how to start, physically controlling the pencil, etc. This could highlight that the child has difficulties with one or several components of drawing or handwriting.

Does your child engage in pretend or imaginative play?

Imaginative play, also known as pretend play, is when your child is playing with a toy in a pretend way, acting a scene they have experienced or imagined. Pretend play also includes playing with a toy in a meaningful and appropriate way.

In the first video we see the first child pretend to feed the doll. This action is known as pre-symbolic play, where the toy is used in a familiar way; using inspiration from their mealtimes. This is in contrast with the second child, who does not engage with the doll. The second child ignores the toy and plays with the toys in a way that is not constructive or meaningful.

In the second video, the first child does not respond to the instruction “Show me how you play”, and does not engage with the toolkit in an appropriate or imaginative way. The second child recognises the tool kit and its purpose and pretends play using consumed knowledge of how to use a tool kit.

Does your child have trouble with two-way interactions?

Two-way interactions (also known as turn-taking) with your child can be via verbal cues, body language, copying behaviour or physical cues like nodding. When a child is able to observe the interaction from another person and respond in an appropriate way, they recognise your communication.

In the first video, the first child rolls the ball and receives the ball from another person. This is an active engagement in two-way interaction. The second child does not comprehend the interaction and shows disinterest in the ball.

Does your child have trouble following simple, one-step instructions?

Following simple, one-step instructions is the ability to comprehend and respond to a command that addresses and responds to the instruction.

In the first video, the first child puts the fruit away in the basket. They have followed the process of listening and then acting in an appropriate way that addresses the instruction. The second child does not act in response to the instruction and instead continues to play.

In the second video, the first child plays with the shapes, however, does not sort them into colours, as requested. The second child follows the verbal instructions and visually arranges the shapes by colour.

Does your child have any aversions to certain textures?

If children avoid particular sensory experiences (such as different textures, movement activities, sounds, or smells) it can impact on their ability to engage in their environment and develop new skills.

The first child in the second video has an aversion to the playdoh texture and pokes at the playdoh. They do not play in a meaningful way. The second child uses their hands to smash and roll the playdoh, creating new shapes. They engage with the playdoh in a creative manner.

Can your child point to or label parts of the body?

Labelling parts of the body is a building block from following instructions. In this activity, the child acknowledges the simple instruction and uses existing knowledge to follow the instruction. In this case, the existing knowledge is body parts.

When asked, “Point to the feet”, the first child in the first video responds promptly with the correct action. The second child does not recognise the instruction, or cannot draw upon their knowledge to respond. Naming body parts, is also about understanding concepts – such as our body is made up of parts, and faces have a nose, ears, mouth etc. These concepts are important as children learn about themselves and others.

How we can help

These videos feature examples of developmental delays, however, is not an exhaustive list.

As a parent, you know your child best. If you recognise any of these signs and have concerns that your child may have developmental delay, we can help.

With the right support and advice, early intervention therapy can help your child to reach their goals.

We have a range of highly trained experts in early childhood intervention, including occupational therapists, speech pathologists, physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and more.

We work with you and your family to create specific ways to help your child reach their therapy goals.

It’s never too early to seek information.

How to get support

Please complete the form below to make an initial enquiry about our early intervention or therapy services and the support we can provide to your child. Our Team will contact you to discuss your individual needs both now and into the future.

Alternatively, please use our referral form if you are ready to make a referral.

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