All About Global Developmental Delays

What is a global developmental delay?

A global delay, developmental delay, or global developmental delay is when a child ages 0-5 takes longer than average to hit more than one developmental milestone. Some developmental milestones for young children include talking, walking, learning, moving, using their hands, and addressing personal needs (self-feeding, toileting, appropriate emotional regulation). This diagnosis encompasses multiple areas of delay and is different than something like a fine motor delay alone. Additionally, if your child is only struggling with speech and language milestones, they may be only diagnosed with a speech-language delay.

What causes a global developmental delay?

Global developmental delays can result from many different events in utero, during birth, or shortly after. Abnormal brain development, spine development, or infections crossing the placenta during pregnancy can result in global developmental delays. Additionally, premature birth, injury during birth, or an infection contracted soon after birth can also impact development.

Is a developmental delay the same as a developmental disability?

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different things. A developmental delay refers to young children not hitting developmental milestones on time. A developmental disability includes delays that affect someone beyond the childhood years like an intellectual disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and others. Both young children with developmental delays and older children with developmental disabilities can learn and achieve their goals with support.

What is an intellectual disability?

An intellectual disability often includes challenges in learning, social functioning, communication, and addressing personal needs, for children and adults older than five years old. Initially, a child younger than five may be diagnosed with a global developmental delay due to challenges in multiple areas of development. When they do not progress in these areas by around age five, formal IQ testing occurs by a clinical or school psychologist. If this child scores 75 and below, they may be diagnosed with an intellectual disability.

Will my child with a developmental delay have autism?

Just because your child has a developmental delay does not mean they will have autism or an intellectual disability in the future. The diagnosis of a developmental delay allows children to get the help they need during a critical period in their development. This may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social groups, social work services, ABA therapy, psychological services, pediatrician support for health needs, and case management. These providers will support your child to reach or approach those milestones. They also are connected to a network of professionals that can help you get an additional diagnosis of autism or intellectual disability if appropriate, which will further connect you to the right supports for your child.

How can I help my child after being diagnosed with a developmental delay?

Connecting to clinicians and supporting your child on their journey are keys to their success. Your pediatrician may suggest local therapists that can support your child. If you are in the Chicagoland area, the network of professionals through CST Academy Therapeutic Preschool, Chicago Speech Therapy, Chicago Occupational Therapy, Chicago Kids Therapy for physical therapy, and the Goldman Center can support your family in setting up the appropriate services for your child.

Additionally, if your child is between birth and the age of three, they will also qualify for in-home services through IDHS: Early Intervention program.