How to spot 5 common developmental delays in preschoolers

Zofishan Umair
Zofishan Umair
Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 29, 2023 · 5 mins read

Even before making his arrival on earth, your child will make one thing very clear: they are going to do everything on their timetable. From completely disregarding the expected delivery date to popping out a tooth, these kids, they call the shots! And that’s all okay, until the point where you have to decide if your child isn’t walking out of sheer laziness or if they are showing signs of developmental delays that need to be addressed ASAP. If this is something you are currently navigating, here’s a quick overview of developmental delays in toddlers that can help you and your child:

What are the five developmental stages?


First, we need to understand the five developmental stages a child goes through.

The first stage is infancy, which is from birth to 18 months. This is when your infant develops a sense of trust and attachment to you or any other caretaker. This is also the time when they will realise they have complete control over their tiny fingers and hands. In short, they learn to control their bodies.

In this stage, they communicate through crying, cooing, and babbling.

The second stage is toddlerhood, which goes from 18 months to 3 years. In these formative years, children learn to be more independent, begin to walk and talk and develop a sense of autonomy. (There is a lot of “mine!” and “no” in these years — Aah, fun times!)

The third stage, which is the one we’re going to focus on, is preschool. The preschool stage begins at age 3 and goes up to age 5. During this time, your child will develop social skills, start understanding basic concepts like counting and shapes, and most importantly, learn to express themselves through play.

The last two stages are school age (6–12 years), where children develop cognitively, academically, and socially and begin to understand more abstract concepts, and adolescence, aka puberty (13–18 years). This is the time when children develop physically, emotionally, and sexually and begin to think more abstractly.

5 developmental delays in children


The developmental stages are simply used to understand how our tiny little humans grow and develop into complex adults with unique personalities. Each stage is based on physical, cognitive, and emotional milestones that children typically go through as they pass through that stage.
Here’s a list of developmental delays:

  • Physical delays
  • Cognitive delays
  • Language delays
  • Social-emotional delays
  • Behavioural Delays

Physical delays include delays in reaching milestones such as sitting up, crawling, walking, and climbing.

Cognitive delays include trouble understanding cause-and-effect relationships, recognising familiar faces, and grasping basic concepts like numbers and shapes.

Language delays are the most common type of delay and include late talking, little to no babbling, etc. A child may not have said his first words and may be unable to form or communicate in simple or complete sentences.

Social-emotional delays include delays in smiling, making eye contact, and beginning to understand emotions, while behavioural delays consist of late toilet training, following simple instructions, and understanding limits.

For a preschooler, a cognitive delay may be the inability to understand the concepts of cause and effect or may suffer from learning difficulties. Similarly, a preschooler with behavioural delays may show signs of frustration or prolonged tantrums and outbursts.


What is the most common developmental delay in children?


It is cute when a two-year-old talks in two-word sentences, repeating the same word a dozen times to get his point across, but it can become a cause for concern a year later if nothing changes.

Unfortunately, speech and language delays are the most common developmental delays in children.

These delays can include difficulty speaking or using appropriate social communication skills like waving goodbye or clear speech.

Children with speech and language delays may need help forming words, putting sentences together, following directions, or understanding what others say.

Identifying this delay during the preschool years is important because this is the time when the child’s brain is learning and developing. It is important to note, however, that speech and language delays are not synonymous, even though it can be difficult to tell in younger children.

If a child struggles with understanding words or concepts, he might suffer from a receptive language disorder. But if he has a limited vocabulary, he may have an expressive language disorder.

This is why it is important to seek help.  Early intervention and a timely diagnosis can help you and your child navigate your way through life more successfully.


Causes of developmental delay


One of our first reactions as parents is to find the answers to the big “Why?”

Why does my child have a speech delay?
Why is he/she acting this way?
Was it because of something I did?
Is it my fault?

Fortunately, science has come a long way and provides concrete evidence as to why things are the way they are. And no, it is not because a pregnant mother accidentally devoured an entire jar of expired olives.

A variety of factors can cause developmental delays in children:

Genetic conditions or chromosomal abnormalities, as well as certain medical conditions, such as premature birth, low birth weight, or exposure to certain toxins, can also contribute to developmental delays.

Environmental factors such as poverty, lack of access to early intervention, and exposure to violence can also contribute to developmental delays.

In many cases, brain trauma or injury has resulted in developmental delays in toddlers.

Helping kids with developmental delays


It’s important to note that sometimes, there may be no known cause for a child’s developmental delay. All the same, the only way to help a preschooler showing signs of developmental delay is by following these two steps:

1. Do not freak out:


Freaking out in front of the child can cause additional trauma, and asking them to do something they’re struggling with will only increase their stress level. If your child is showing any signs of a developmental delay, it is okay to worry about it and voice your concerns.

A child who may have been showing signs of speech or language delay may have poor hearing, or just happen to be a late talker. After all, wasn’t Einstein one too?

The only way to know is to talk to an expert, which brings us to step 2.

2. Early intervention can help your child:


A multidisciplinary evaluation by a pediatrician, neurologist, and/or developmental pediatrician, along with other specialists, is the best way to identify the cause of the delay in your preschooler.

This way, you can ensure your child gets the help they need on time.

An evaluation can also help rule out delays that will help create a more positive and nurturing environment for the child.


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