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What Causes Developmental Delays in Kids?

What Causes Developmental Delays in Kids?

Parents love to talk about their kids and, in the process, they compare their child's progress to other children. The big moments parents share (and compare), like their baby's first words and steps, are developmental milestones.

Children achieve many milestones as they get older, but sometimes they fall behind their peers, which may be the sign of a developmental delay. The exceptional team at THINK Neurology for Kids performs in-depth assessments to determine if your child has a developmental delay. Then they create a treatment plan that teaches the needed skills.

As they evaluate children for developmental delays, the team also searches for potential causes so the underlying problem can also be treated. Keep reading to learn more about developmental delays and their causes.

Developmental delays defined

As children get older, they develop language, speech, thinking, emotional, and social skills. The progressive steps they take to develop a multitude of skills go in a specific order over a period. For example, babies begin with coos, then speak their first words and add to their vocabulary, before finally speaking in 3-4 word sentences, a skill they don’t reach until around two years.

Each step in the process is called a developmental milestone. These milestones occur in the same order but not at the same time for every child. 

That's why each milestone has an age range in which it typically occurs. For example, babies typically start walking around 12 months, but it's normal for them to take their first steps anytime between 9 to 18 months.

Knowing the progressive steps toward skill-building and the typical age range allows us to evaluate children and determine if they reach all their milestones on time.

When children don't achieve a milestone, they have a developmental delay. The types of developmental delays include:

Cognitive delays

Cognitive delays affect your child's ability to think and process information, including problem-solving, reasoning, remembering, understanding, and learning. In some cases, a cognitive delay may become more apparent when children enter school.

Speech and language delays

In addition to not saying their first words when expected, delays in speech and language include difficulty understanding words or concepts, a limited vocabulary, the inability to use complete sentences, or struggling to form words. 

Motor delays

Motor delays occur when your child can’t coordinate muscle movement, including large muscles that control walking, sitting, and standing, as well as fine motor skills that allow them to grasp and hold small objects or do things like eat, write, and tie their shoes.

Social, emotional, and behavioral delays

Developmental delays can affect your child's ability to make friends, maintain relationships, cooperate, empathize with others, and regulate their own emotions.

Causes of developmental delays

We can't always identify a specific cause for a developmental delay. However, there's a very long list of possible causes, so we carefully evaluate each child to discover if they have a cause that we can target with treatment.

These are only a few of the many possible causes of developmental delays:

Developmental disabilities

In some cases, developmental delays are symptoms of a developmental disability, which means the disability causes the delay. Developmental disabilities include ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy.

Developmental disabilities are life-long conditions that require ongoing intervention. By comparison, most children overcome developmental delays with therapy that teaches them the skills they need to reach their milestones.

Pregnancy and birth complications

Children can develop developmental delays if their mother had an infection or drank, smoked, or used drugs while pregnant. Babies who are born prematurely or underweight or who don't get enough oxygen during birth may also have developmental delays.

Environmental challenges

Environmental challenges that may cause developmental delays include lead poisoning, nutritional deficiencies, trauma, and neglect, to name a few. Trauma and neglect cover many different challenges, from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse to the loss of parents and community violence.

Medical conditions

Any medical condition limiting a child's daily activities hampers their ability to progress and learn their developmental skills. Health problems affecting development range from serious conditions such as a traumatic brain injury to a wide range of common diseases.

Chronic ear infections, hearing loss, and problems controlling certain muscles can cause a speech delay. Any vision problem interferes with a child's ability to meet developmental milestones. Muscle diseases, whether inherited or acquired, hinder motor skills.

If you have any concerns about your child's development, call THINK Neurology for Kids or book an appointment online today.

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