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Developmental delay

Developmental delay

Developmental delay is a term used when a child is not developing and reaching the milestones typical for their age, in one or more areas of (speech, language and communication, motor, cognitive or emotional) development. If the child is delayed in all areas then the term ‘global developmental delay’ is used.

A child who has a developmental delay in speech, language and communication would be significantly delayed in developing the skills needed for understanding spoken or written language, being able to express their thoughts, speech or communication with others. A child who has delayed skills in understanding spoken language may struggle to understand complex and long phrases expressed by parents or teachers.

Our speech and language therapists can work with your child to reduce the level of delay and increase your child’s skills by creating a therapy programme that is individual to your child, using their strengths and weaknesses to further their development.

What exactly is developmental delay?

Children develop at different rates, there are many reasons for this such as their genetics, physical ability, environment around them and cultural differences. When the delay becomes significant it is usually described as a developmental delay. Delays can occur in the following areas of development:

  • Motor development.
  • Cognitive development.
  • Speech, language and communication development.
  • Social and emotional development.

Developmental delay can occur in all areas of development or just one or more areas. Progress in one area of development can lead to progress in others. Difficulty in one area can impact other areas, for example, difficulties with communication can impact upon a child’s ability to socialise with their peers.

What causes developmental delay?

Developmental delay can occur in both boys and girls. A child may just have a developmental delay or it can co-occur with other conditions or illnesses. Research suggests there are many factors that can cause developmental delay in children.

Some factors include:

  • Genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse by the mother during pregnancy.
  • Difficulties or complications during pregnancy including premature birth.
  • Some severe medical problems that occur shortly after birth.
  • Illnesses during childhood such as meningitis or injury to the brain.
  • Environmental factors such as neglect or attachment issues with primary caregiver.
  • Hearing loss caused by chronic ear infections.
  • Unknown cause.


It is thought that 13% of children in schools in the United Kingdom have some form of developmental delay.

Symptoms associated with developmental delay?

The signs of a developmental delay in children vary according to the area or areas they are showing difficulty in and the severity of the delay. Children who have developmental delay will vary in their skill set and ability. Some skills will be developed to their age appropriate milestones while others will be significantly delayed.

Some signs to look for include:

Motor development

  • Delayed gross motor skills.
  • Delayed fine motor skills.
  • Delayed visual motor skills.

Cognitive development

  • Difficulties with developing play.
  • Difficulties understanding instructions.
  • Difficulties understanding concepts.

Speech, language and communication development

  • Delayed understanding of language.
  • Delayed expressive language skills.
  • Delayed speech sounds development.

Social and emotional development

  • Difficulties with recognising emotions in others.
  • Difficulties with demonstrating emotions.

Worried about your child's development?

If you are worried about your child’s development, do not hesitate to contact us to speak to one of our passionate speech and language therapists.


How does developmental delay impact upon function?

Speech, language and communication delay appears to be the most common type of developmental delay in children. Research suggests that 5% of children who start school in the United Kingdom have some form of speech, language and communication delay or difficulties. Speech, language and communication skills are vital to the development of a child, both academically and socially. Speech, language and communication difficulties can have a negative impact on a child’s development. Some difficulties experienced by children who have a developmental delay in the area of speech, language and communication include:

  • Difficulties understanding what is being said.
  • Difficulties expressing thoughts, feeling and emotions to others.
  • Difficulty creating and maintaining meaningful friendships and relationships with siblings, peers and parents.
  • Difficulties accessing the curriculum.
  • Difficulties socialising with others.

Our speech and language therapists can help reduce the levels of delay and difficulties experienced by a child with developmental delay by providing them with an individualised therapy programme to increase their existing skills.

Speech clinic

We are able to help children with any speech, language or communication difficulties and disorders in order to help children achieve their maximum potential.


Speech and language therapy assessments suitable for developmental delay

Our speech and language therapists can assess your child to identify their level of difficulties and delay using formal or informal assessments that are suited to your child’s needs and abilities. Assessments used by the therapists vary according to the area of your child’s difficulty.

Assessments provided by our speech and language therapists include:

Speech and language therapy available for developmental delay

Our speech and language therapists can help decrease the level of difficulties your child is experiencing by providing your child with a therapy programme that is tailored to their needs and abilities. The speech, language and communication therapy programme will include their motivators and the goals your child, the school and you want to reach.

Children with developmental delay in the area of speech, language and communication can vary in their severity of delay and difficulties. A child may be stronger in their expressive language difficulties but can only understand one key word at a time. Our speech and language therapists can provide the child with a language programme that will develop their understanding gradually. Another child may experience delay and difficulty only in the area of speech. Our speech and language therapist can work with the child to create a therapy programme that would work on the child’s speech sounds and diminish their phonological errors.

Some therapy options provided by our speech and language therapists include:

  • Receptive language programmes.
  • Expressive language programmes.
  • Speech sound development.
  • Social communication programmes.
  • Group therapy.
  • Individual therapy.
  • Training, advice and support for parents, carers and professionals involved with your child.

Our speech and language therapists can help to increase your child’s activity and participation in daily life by developing their speech, language and communication skills and reduce their level of difficulties and delay.

Have questions?

If you have any questions about the services that we provide or the difficulties that we are able to help, do not hesitate to contact us.


Next steps

To book an appointment or to speak to one of our qualified speech and language therapists email us on office@sltforkids.co.uk or call 0330 088 2298.

To discuss training needs within your setting please take a look at our training service page or contact training@sltforkids.co.uk.

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