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Developmental Delays/Intellectual Disabilities

It's true that children learn at their own pace, and while “normal" can be difficult to define, it is important to recognize if your child is falling behind children of the same age.

Spotting problems in learning or development early is important and can often help kids get caught up, so talk to your Boys Town Pediatrician if you believe your child is falling behind children of the same age.

Examples of Developmental Delays Include:

  • Learning slower than children of the same age
  • Plateauing in development
  • Poor motor skills (coordination)
  • Problems with language development
  • Difficulty with social skills
  • Little emotional control
  • Insufficient reasoning and thinking skills for their age

Signs of Developmental Delays and Intellectual Disabilities

The signs a child with a problem in development will show vary based on his/her individual condition(s). However, there are some general signs parents can watch for if they suspect their child is affected by developmental delays or intellectual disability:

  • Losing a skill the child previously had, such as clear speech or holding a pen or crayon
  • The child is far behind in reaching milestones that most children of a similar age have achieved
  • Concerns from teachers about difficulty learning and keeping up with same-aged peers

Parents should also watch for unique behaviors, like making a straight line with toys instead of simply playing with them, preoccupation with certain toys, avoiding eye contact, impaired language skills, unusual body movements, like hand flapping, inflexible routines or little or no interest in social interactions, especially with same-aged children.

What Causes Developmental Delays/Intellectual Disabilities?

There is no single cause responsible for developmental delays or intellectual disabilities occurring in children, and they can occur before a child is born, at birth or during infancy and early childhood. Developmental delays or intellectual disability can be caused by a variety of factors, including prenatal exposure to certain toxins or infections, genetic etiology, serious infections or trauma experienced as an infant or young child, such as shaken baby syndrome, or a traumatic psychological experience.

Because it is difficult to determine what led to the delay or disability, parents are encouraged to focus on treatment, rather than the cause.

Diagnosing Developmental Delays/Intellectual Disabilities

A variety of professionals will be involved in assuring a proper diagnosis for your child, including pediatricians, psychologists and neurologists. Your child will be tested for general intelligence and how he/she can handle everyday activities.

Your doctors will also consider home and school environments and how your child interacts with others on a day-to-day basis.

Usually, the diagnosis is made during early childhood, before your child goes to school. However, sometimes a diagnosis is made in school-aged children.

Classifications of Developmental Delays/Intellectual Disabilities

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe
  • Profound
  • Unspecified

If your child is diagnosed with any of these classifications, other conditions may also be present. These may include autism, ADHD, epilepsy, vision disorders, cerebral palsy, and hearing disorders.

Treatment for Developmental Delays/Intellectual Disabilities

Depending on the severity of your child's diagnosis, you may work with a pediatrician, neurologist, and case manager who can recommend individualized therapies, counseling, organized playtime and other services. Sometimes, if other medical conditions are found, such as epilepsy or ADHD, medication will frequently be recommended in addition to therapies.

Different Types of Therapy Include

  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech-language therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Physical therapy

Should your child require treatment as they reach school age, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that your child will be entitled to free education based on their needs.

Your school system will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child with your input.

The most important thing is that no matter what level of developmental delay or intellectual disability your child is experiencing, they will thrive best with your love and support.

Child Development Pediatric Neurology