What is Developmental Delay?
Normal development occurs in a similar pace for all children. By a certain age, most children achieve a particular skill. If a child is achieving skills later than other children, it is known as developmental delay. Developmental delay could be caused by a variety of factors like accidents, illness, and genetic problems. In some cases developmental delay can be caused by a lack of a supporting or stimulating environment. Sometimes, delay is seen in one area due to a disability or impairment in another area. Often, a stimulating environment and some concentrated effort at the preschool stage helps children catch up in areas of delay and do well for the rest of their life.
This article helps you understand more about what is developmental delay. It describes the various areas you can see delay, how you can notice it, and how you can help children with a delay in a particular area.
Physical Delay- Gross Motor
Physical delay refers to a delay in physical skills such as head control, rolling, sitting, standing, and walking. Children learn to walk by 1 year of age, and a child in your preschool classroom should be able to walk, jump, climb stairs, run and stand on one foot. If a child is very clumsy, he might have physical developmental delay.
If you find a child with delay in this area, provide him the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of physical activities. An Occupational Therapist or a Physiotherapist will be able to assess the exact difficulty and will be able to prescribe specific activities or exercises for treatment.
Physical Delay- Fine Motor
Fine motor skills are not fully developed by preschool. However, the child should be able to use both hands together to handle and manipulate objects. Eye hand coordination also should have developed to a significant extent.
If the child has a delay in this area, provide a large number of small toys to play with- beads, marbles, toy soldiers, small blocks etc. You can also provide toys that require both hands to handle- large balls, large stuffed toys etc. An Occupational Therapist will be able to give specific advice regarding fine motor delay.
Social Skills Delay
Some children have difficulty in picking up social skills like social smile, or eye contact. They may find it difficult to meet new people or go to a crowded place. In the classroom, they may prefer to be alone than play with other children. Children with a delay in this area alone are often diagnosed with Autism or similar disorders. They will need special assessment and intervention to help them learn skills. A developmental pediatrician or a psychologist will be able to help with a child with these difficulties.
Language Developmental Delay
Children can have language developmental delay due to a variety of causes. Some causes are structural and can be helped through simple surgeries; others are due a cognitive delay or social delay. Often children with hearing difficulties present with a language delay. Thus it is important for a child with language developmental delay to be seen by a specialist and undergo all the required investigations. A speech therapist can help with training for language skills.
Some children with language delay just need a stimulating environment. Ensure that your classroom schedule includes activities like singing, stories and games where the child is listening to words and is expected to participate by vocalizing.
Cognitive skills include attention, memory and problem solving. A child who is not able to pick up new skills, or forgets things that are taught may have a cognitive delay. Children with cognitive delay need to be assessed by a psychologist. The assessment will also help us identify the child’s style of learning and will help you modify your lesson plans to help the child learn.
Thus, these are some of the areas of developmental delay in children. When you suspect an area of delay discuss it with the parents and motivate them to see a specialist. Often parents find it difficult to believe that their child may have a difficulty and need some persuasion. Giving them specific reasons and incidents may help them to understand the situation better. A letter to the doctor describing the difficulties that you may have noticed in the classroom may also help with the diagnosis and treatment of the child. You as a teacher have an important role to play in this process of identifying and working with a child with developmental delay. So be observant and creative. All the best!