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Developmental Delays

Symptoms and Signs of Developmental Delays

The signs of developmental delays may vary significantly, depending on the underlying cause of the delays. However, you should contact your family physician if:

  • By the age of three or four months, your child does not respond to loud noises, does not babble or begins babbling but does not try to imitate sounds.
  • By the age of seven months, your child does not respond to sounds.
  • By the age of one year, your child does not use single words (e.g., “mama”).
  • By the age of two years, your child cannot speak at least 15 words, does not use two-word phrases without repetition and does not use speech to communicate more than immediate needs.

These are all signs of speech or language delays. Your child may have vision-related problems if he or she:

  • Does not follow moving objects with his eyes or notice hands, has trouble moving one or both eyes in all directions, and crosses his or her eyes most of the time by the age of three months.
  • Has one or both eyes turning in or out all the time, experiences constant tearing, draining or light sensitivity, or does not follow near objects or far objects with both eyes at the age of six months.

Signs of motor skills–related delays may include:

  • By the age of three or four months, the child does not reach for, grasp or hold objects; does not support his or her head well; does not bring objects to his or her mouth; or does not push down with his or her legs when his or her feet are placed on a firm surface.
  • By the age of seven months, the child has stiff or floppy muscles, flops his or her head when pulled into a sitting position, does not actively reach for objects or only reaches with one hand, has trouble getting objects into his or her mouth, does not roll over in either direction, cannot sit up without help, and does not bear weight on his or her legs when pulled into a standing position.
  • By the age of one year, the child does not crawl, cannot stand when supported, and drags one side of his or her body while crawling.
  • By the age of 18 months, the child cannot walk.
  • By the age of two years, the child has not developed a heel-to-toe walking pattern or walks only on his or her toes, and the child cannot push a wheeled toy.

Signs of social and emotional developmental delays include:

  • By the age of three months, the child does not smile at people or pay attention to new faces (or perhaps seems frightened of them).
  • By the age of seven months, the child refuses to cuddle, shows no affection for parents and caregivers, shows no enjoyment of being around people, cannot be comforted at night, does not smiles without prompting or laugh or squeal, and has no interest in games such as peek-a-boo.
  • By the age of one year, the child displays no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or facial expressions, and no back-and-forth gestures such as waving or pointing.

Signs of cognitive delays, which may indicate the presence of Down syndrome or a pervasive developmental disorder such as autism, include:

  • By the age of one year, the child does not search for objects that are hidden while he or she watches, does not use gestures, and does not point to pictures or objects.
  • By the age of two years, the child does not understand that function of common objects such as a telephone or spoon, does not imitate actions or words, and does not follow simple instructions.

It is important to remember that most development delays are not serious and the child will eventually catch up, and even in cases of serious delays kids can make big improvements with early diagnosis and treatments. 

Locations for Developmental Delays