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Development Delay


Developmental Delay is when your child does not reach their developmental milestones at the expected times. It is an ongoing major or minor delay in the process of development. If your child is temporarily lagging, that is not called Developmental delay. Delays can occur in one or many areas—for example, gross or fine motor, language, social, or thinking skills. 

Developmental Delay is most often a diagnosis made by a doctor based on strict guidelines. Usually, though, the parent is the first to notice that their child is not progressing at the same rate as other children the same age. If you think your child may be “slow,” or “seems behind,” speak with your child's doctor about it. In some cases, your pediatrician might pick up a delay during an office visit. It will probably take several visits and possibly a referral to a developmental specialist to be sure that the delay is not just a temporary lag. Your child's doctor may use a set of screening tools during regular well-child visits.

The first three years of a child's life are an amazing time of development... 

...and what happens during those years stays with a child for a lifetime. That's why it's so important to watch for signs of delays in development and to get help if you suspect problems. The sooner a delayed child gets early intervention, the better their progress will be. So, if you have concerns, act early. 

What causes Developmental delay? 

Developmental delay can have many different causes, such as genetic causes (like Down syndrome), or complications of pregnancy and birth (like prematurity or infections). Often, however, the specific cause is unknown. Some causes can be easily reversed if caught early enough, such as hearing loss from chronic ear infections, or lead poisoning.


The term “absolute indicators” are clinical terms that are often also referred to as “red flags”. These terms are used to identify behavioral or developmental signs which suggest the need for further evaluation. For parents, such “red flags” should serve as a sign to seek developmental screening to ensure that their child is on the right developmental path. If you are observing that your child is showing two or more of these signs, it is in your best interest to seek a pediatric healthcare provider for an evaluation. The following are some symptoms that exist when a Developmental delay is present: 

*Please note, this list is not inclusive of ALL developmental red flags

Developmental red flags (1 to 3 months): 

  • Does not seem to respond to loud noises

  • Does not follow moving objects with eyes for 2 to 3 months

  • Does not smile at the sound of your voice

  • Does not grasp and hold objects for 3 months

  • Does not smile at people for 3 months

  • Can’t support head at 3 months

Developmental red flags (4 to 7 months): 

  • Appears stiff, with tight muscles

  • Appears very floppy (like a rag doll)

  • Does not appear to enjoy being around other people

  • Does not respond to sounds near them

  • Does not turn head to locate sound by 4 months

  • Does not follow objects with both eyes

  • Cannot sit with help for 6 months

Developmental red flags (8 to 12 months): 

  • Does not crawl

  • Says no single words (e.g. mama or dada)

  • Can’t stand when supported

  • Drags one side of their body while crawling for over 1 month

  • Cannot sit steadily for 10 months

  • Does not babble by 8 months

Developmental red flags (12 to 24 months): 

  • Not able to walk by 18 months

  • Not able to develop a mature heel-toe walking pattern after several months

  • Cannot speak at least 15 words by 18 months

  • Cannot use two-word sentences by the age of 2

  • Cannot imitate actions or words by 24 months '

  • Cannot follow simple one-step instructions for 24 months

Developmental red flags (24 to 36 months):

  • Constant falling and has difficulty with stairs

  • Not able to build a tower with more than 4 blocks

  • Not able to communicate in short phrases

  • Not able to understand simple instructions

  • Has very little interest in other children

  • Persistent drooling or unclear speech ​

Developmental red flags (3 to 4 years): 

  • Cannot hold a crayon between thumb and fingers

  • Cannot copy a circle

  • Cannot jump in place

  • Does not engage in dramatic/fantasy play

  • Ignores other children

  • No interest in interactive games

  • Resists dressing, using the toilet, sleeping

Treatments & Therapies

When it comes to Developmental delays, no one treatment will work for every child. Any treatment will require taking into account the child’s individual needs and strengths. The main theme of treatment includes early intervention which may include: 

  • Speech and language therapy 

  • Occupational therapy 

  • Physical therapy 

  • Behavioral therapies


The Hanen Centre:


Developmental Services Ontario:


Surrey Place Centre:


Centennial Infant and Child Centre Foundation:


Toronto Early Childhood and Family Resource System:


The Canadian Child Care Federation(former Child and Family Canada):

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