What are developmental delays?

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • All kids develop skills at different rates.

  • There are five main areas of development in which kids can have delays.

  • A developmental delay is more than being “a little behind” in one area of development.

“How old was yours when she first rolled over?”

“Mine has been talking in complete sentences for months!”

Talking about meeting milestones is common among proud parents and caregivers. But it can be nerve-racking to see or hear about other kids passing milestones before your child does. You may worry about developmental delays. There’s more to it than being “slower to develop” or “a little behind.” A developmental delay means kids are continually behind in gaining the skills expected by a certain age. 

A developmental delay can happen in just one area or in a few. A global developmental delay is when kids have delays in at least two areas.

Not meeting developmental milestones at the same rate as other kids isn’t always a reason to worry. Children don’t all develop skills on a strict timetable. 

And developmental delays are typically caused by things beyond a family’s control. For example, a speech delay can be caused by temporary hearing loss from multiple ear infections, which aren’t uncommon in babies and toddlers. 

When a child isn’t meeting multiple milestones as quickly as expected, a health care provider or a childcare provider may suggest an early intervention evaluation to understand what’s going on. 

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.