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Parenting a Child with a Developmental Delay

Did you know, that developmental delays occur in 10-15% of preschool children?

Parenting a child with a developmental delay can be an incredibly challenging journey. Although every child learns and grows at a unique pace, it’s important to recognize the different types of developmental delays and how they may be impacting your child’s experiences in life.

In this article, we will explore the common types of developmental delays, including the factors and symptoms associated with the delay, along with three effective strategies parents can use to help their child reach their full potential.

What is a Developmental Delay?

A developmental delay describes a child’s inability to accomplish specific skills that are expected of him or her at a given age in their life. Delays may occur in various areas including cognitive function, movement patterns, speech and language, socialization, and emotional skills.

A global developmental delay refers to a child who experiences two or more significant limitations in their developmental skills along with a lower than average intellectual functioning.

Types of Developmental Delays

Here are four areas of developmental delays that are commonly expressed in children between the ages of 3 to 5 years.

1.   Cognitive Delays

A cognitive-developmental delay refers to any type of delay affecting one’s thinking, learning, problem-solving, reasoning, and memory skills.

Common causes include:

  • Genetic defects
  • Medical problems before birth
  • Exposure to harmful environmental toxins
  • Parental neglect

2.    Speech and Language Delays

The word speech refers to the verbal expression used in communication while language is a broader term used to describe the way one expresses and receives information.

The most common delays in children are speech and language developmental delays, which can affect communication, understanding, and body language skills.

Common causes include:

  • Exposure to multiple languages
  • Learning disabilities
  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Loss of muscle control leading to slurred speech (i.e. dysarthria)
  • Hearing loss
  • Autism spectrum disorders

3.   Motor Delays

Developmental delays in a child’s motor or movement pattern include any type of gross skills using larger muscles (i.e. sitting, walking, running, etc.) or fine skills using small muscles (i.e. balancing, drawing, eating, dressing, writing, etc.)

Common causes include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cognitive delays
  • Muscle impairment (i.e. ataxia)
  • Muscle weakness (i.e. myopathy)
  • Spina bifida

4.   Social and Emotional Delays

Lastly, children may experience problems either interacting with adults or other children when experiencing a social and/or emotional developmental delay. This type of delay commonly arises before school and can affect how they interact, cooperate, respond to emotions, and create relationships.

Common causes include:

  • Parental neglect
  • Ineffective parenting which may cause attachment issues
  • Cognitive delays
  • Autism spectrum disorder

Parenting Stress: Is It Normal?

Parenting a child with a developmental delay can be challenging for various reasons. From guilt to frustration, it’s not uncommon for parents to experience a spectrum of unsettling emotions — even on the best of days.

Research exploring the link between childhood developmental delays and parental stress found a bidirectional relationship between these two variables. In other words, while high behavioural or intellectual delays contributed to greater parental stress, high parental stress also led to a worsening in developmental delays in a child over time.

Fortunately, there are strategies that can help parents put an end to the cycle of stress and help deepen their connection with their child.

3 Ways You Can Help Your Child with Developmental Delays

As a parent, you’re willing to go above and beyond to help your child succeed in life. Here are three effective strategies that can help you get your child on the path to reaching their full potential.

1.   Continue Playing and Having Fun

When it comes to children, developmental delays should never be the reason to stop playing and having fun. Engaging in fun, enjoyable activities can help build fundamental skills throughout the course of their development.

During play, children can learn how to connect with others, enhance their movement patterns, use critical thinking skills, enhance their imagination and creativity, and even improve their levels of confidence.

Forms of play that improve cognition:

  • Board games (i.e. Snakes and Ladders)
  • Card games (i.e. “Go Fish”)
  • Riddles

Forms of play that improve language and speech:

  • Story-telling
  • Rhyming games
  • Singing

Forms of play that improve motor skills:

  • Dancing
  • Playing with play-dough
  • Climbing on a jungle gym

Forms of play that improve social and emotional skills:

  • Playing a game (i.e. tag or hide-and-seek)
  • Invent a new handshake
  • Emotional charades

Remember, no matter the type of game your toddler is playing, having fun is really all that matters!

2.   Emphasize Visual Learning

Oftentimes, children with developmental delays have a difficult time learning and understanding new skills. One of the best ways to help facilitate learning is by showing.

Pictures, videos, and other forms of visual stimulation can help your child understand the world around them. For example, rather than explaining to them that they need to put away their toys or tidy up the house, it may be more effective to create a "chore chart" to help facilitate understanding.

When introducing a new task, it helps to start slow and ease into the process. Begin by showing your child (i.e. how to brush your teeth), then let your child try it themselves. Remember to provide plenty of praise and positive reinforcement throughout the process.

3.   Seek Professional Guidance

Early intervention services can be influential to a child's developmental progress. Not only can these services help your child learn new skills that are fundamental to their growth and development, but they can help them gain more confidence through self-mastery as well.

Effective forms of intervention include:

  • Counselling
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Social skills coaching

The Bottom Line of Development Delays

If you’re parenting a child with a developmental delay, you are not alone.

Developmental delays are a common problem that can be incredibly challenging for both the child and their parent. So whether your child is experiencing one or more developmental delays affecting their progress in life, we recommend any (or all) three of these strategies to help re-engage your child in the things they love doing.

If you have questions, we have answers! Click here to book a free 30-minute consultation with an experienced therapist today.

Written by Tori Mudie BA, MA, RP, CCC

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