Developmental Delay

The term “developmental delay” is typically used in school systems as a general term to describe a young child who is exhibiting significant delays in one or more areas. An early childhood assessment looks at these specific areas:

  • Physical development – fine motor skills, gross motor skills
  • Cognitive development – intellectual abilities
  • Communication development – speech and language
  • Social or emotional development – social skills, emotional control
  • Adaptive development – self care skills

Young children develop at varying rates. The goal of special education is for a developmentally delayed child to receive early intervention services and eventually catch up to his or her peers. When a child reaches a specific age determined by the school system (usually somewhere between age five and nine,) a child must be reevaluated to determine progress. Hopefully a student will no longer need special education services. Often a more descriptive disability is identified at this time (i.e. learning disability, intellectual disability, etc.)

If you have concerns about your child’s development, share these concerns with your pediatrician who can recommend a screening with your school system if necessary. (See SPED referrals for more information)


IDEA 2004 Definition

Child with a disability for children aged three through nine (or any subset of that age range, including ages three through five), who is experiencing developmental delays as defined by the State and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in one or more of the following areas: Physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development; and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

A Parent’s Guide to Developmental Delays : Recognizing and Coping with Missed Milestones in Speech, Movement, Learning, and Other AreasBy: Laurie Fivozinsky LeComer
The Child With Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional GrowthBy: Stanley I. Greenspan, Serena Wieder, Robin Simons

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