Mother and child on a walk.

Every moment after a child’s birth is a critical point in time for their always-learning, always-growing selves. While children are consistently taking in their surroundings and learning from their interactions, there are age-specific milestones that they should be close in line to hit. If you are worried that your child may be falling behind and not developing at the correct pace, this may be a sign that your child is experiencing a developmental delay.

Paying close attention to critical aspects of your children’s interactions such as emotional responses or childhood speech can be telling and allow you to step in early and seek childhood speech therapy or Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy when necessary.

We will take a deep dive into these four main categories of childhood development:

  • Speech and language delays
  • Motor skills
  • Social development
  • Cognitive skills

This guide will provide a comprehensive summary of these various childhood developmental categories, why they are essential, and how you can spot early signs of delays. If any of these childhood speech delays or other developments resonate with your child, we will guide you on when to seek the counsel of speech therapy. Childhood development delays can seem mild, but it’s essential to be mindful and aware of critical developmental milestones to spot any hindrances early on.

What Are Childhood Speech and Language Delays?

Childhood speech and language are a crucial part of a child’s development and growth, interacting with other aspects of life. The presence of childhood speech and language delays could stem from several reasons, including development disorders or hearing impairment. Speech therapy can help to identify and distinguish hearing issues against childhood speech and language delays. Language delays can inhibit a child’s social interactions, cause undesirable behavior, and low academic skills.

Below are a few common types of childhood speech and language delays and disorders:

  • Childhood apraxia of speech – a childhood speech disorder relating to the inability or difficulty of executing speech movements in sequence.
  • Expressive language delays – difficulty using words to communicate.
  • Late talkers – Used to describe a limited spoken vocabulary in comparison to peers.
  • Learning disabilities – difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Dysarthria – a motor speech disorder caused by weakened vocal muscles.

If your child is not exhibiting any signs of developmental delays, you will still benefit from learning how to spot red flags in their development. By understanding the development of childhood speech and language skills, you can better recognize and support your child’s speech and language needs and, most importantly, know when to seek a speech therapist’s intervention.

Spotting Early Signs of Language Delays

Childhood speech and language delays can come in many different forms. By being an observant and active caregiver, you can spot early indications of any issues. We often speak in exaggerated expressions when communicating with children, and for a good reason. Children are always learning and absorbing from their surroundings. These exaggerated expressions help promote imitation to children, which is a critical factor in early childhood speech and language development. You can spot signs of language delays as early as two months old and possibly even earlier.

You can spot signs of language delays by a lack of imitation, lack of eye contact, or even non-responsiveness, though non-responsiveness could also be a sign of hearing issues. These communication avenues can be observed as early as infancy. The earliest signs of speaking from an infant are in the form of cooing or babbling. If your baby is not babbling, not making gestures, or not engaging with you via eye contact during play, this could be a sign of a speech or language delay.

Grandson lying down with his grandma in the grass.

Late Talkers

Toddlers aged 18-30 months will begin speaking in small, shorter sentences – this is not abnormal and not a late talker sign. The late talker language delay is defined by limited childhood speech after the age of 30 months. You can begin to watch for signs of a late talker speech delay at whatever age your child may start wanting to speak and trying to form sentences. Though it is common for children sometimes to confuse their words or meanings, a consistent presence of this issue could be a sign of a late talker. Late talkers often experience word mix-up or confusion. Without a resolution of late talkers, this confusion can carry on into preschool-ages and have a long-term effect on a child’s academics, social interaction, and overall confidence speaking.

Childhood speech issues can manifest into a late talker child based on these risk factors: comprehension issues, limited gesture use, and family history. If you notice any of these signs, it is time to seek the intervention of speech therapy. Childhood Speech and language delays can cause significant issues if left untreated, and therefore early intervention in the form of speech therapy is critical. A late talker’s language delays may or may not be corrected after social interaction and social exposure, so it’s best to seek speech therapy at the first sign of late talkers.

When to Seek Speech Therapy for Language Delays

If you begin to notice signs of childhood speech issues, it is best to reach out to a speech therapist’s professional counsel as early as possible. A rapid and timely intervention can make an impactful difference in getting your child’s speech and language delays back on track. In the case of late talkers, progress can be made relatively quickly under a speech therapist’s guidance. You can learn more about helping late talkers with alternate communication strategies, such as American Sign Language (ASL), from a speech therapist.

For other childhood speech and language delays, a speech therapist can work with both children and parents to develop a care plan that is individualized for each child’s needs. Factors like environment and other interactions can be critical in their growth and development. A speech therapist will guide parents on altering a child’s environment and interactions for optimal childhood speech and language development and benefits.

Whether your child is a late talker or a troubled speller, speech therapy can support a child to manage their disorders or issues early on. A speech therapist can also reveal if childhood speech and language delays are signs of a neurological disorder, such as autism disorder. In this case, a speech therapist may recommend ABA therapy, which we will get into later on.

Delayed Motor Skills

There are two categories of motor skills that we look at when it comes to childhood development: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve using the main, more massive muscle groups to move about. Some examples of gross motor skills include sitting, walking, and balancing. Fine motor skills refer to a more robust set of skills needed for more complex tasks such as eating, writing, and playing.

Children work on gross motor skills in early infancy and advance into more refined motor skills later on in early childhood. Gross motor skills serve as the framework for more advanced fine motor skills, making them an essential part of a child’s development.

Delayed motor skills can surface in a few different ways:
  • Delayed maturation
  • Disbalance
  • Discoordination

Delayed maturation refers to the ability to use gross motor skills, but within an appropriate range of the specific milestones, they should. Disbalance refers to a child’s inability to balance – this can manifest in both sitting and standing. Balance is necessary for a child to sit upright, stand, walk, and so much more. An uncoordinated child is not able to move all or parts of their body well. Most children, especially when learning to walk, will seem a little clumsy and off-kilter as they find their balance. The lack of coordination manifests into an underperformance of gross motor skills.

How to Improve Your Child’s Motor Skills

You can help your infant refine their gross and fine motor skills with activities such as playtime, tummy time, encouraging crawling, and sensory activities. Infants are also working on their gross motor skills during feedings. Reaching for a bottle or feeding themselves with utensils or fingers is an excellent activity for young children to practice their gross motor skills.

As children develop their gross motor skills, they will begin to define their fine motor skills even further. There are several playtime activities and games that can help toddlers practice their fine motor skills, such as arts and crafts, playing sports, and playing with interactive toys.

Social and Emotional Development and Impacts of Delays

Children are continually learning and developing different communication skills. Their social development and skills are mostly learned in settings involving interaction with new people, such as a playdate or starting school or daycare. Emotional skills factor into how a child communicates, especially in these social situations.

A child will learn social and emotional skills when dealing with unfavorable interactions, such as playing with another child that refuses to share. The social and emotional skills learned at a young age teach children how to respond to a situation effectively.

Social and emotional development delays can surface these types of behaviors:
  • Social awkwardness
  • Inability or difficulty initiating conversation
  • Difficulty coping
  • Prolonged temper tantrums or outbursts

These behaviors can signal to parents that a child is experiencing social or emotional developmental delays. In this case, children will require additional support and guidance to manage these behaviors. A therapist will teach children how to modify their response in dealing with new social and emotional challenges.

Without the proper social and emotional skills, communicating and interacting with others can become very difficult. ABA therapy can help children with autism work on their communication skills and further develop their social skills.

Little boy throwing a tantrum.

Red Flags for Cognitive Development

Cognitive development delays are arguably the most critical part of childhood development. Cognitive delays affect all other areas of a child’s development, including childhood speech, language skills, and social and emotional development. Cognitive delays can be found in infancy.

To spot early signs of cognitive development delays, look for these signs:

  • Lack of interest in playtime
  • Disinterest in the environment
  • Slow to respond
  • Lack of curiosity

If your child is experiencing any signs of cognitive issues or other developmental delays, a speech therapist can work with you and the child to get back on track. Cognitive development can also be a sign of a disorder, such as autism disorder. In this case, a therapist may recommend ABA therapy. Seek the professional counsel of a trusted and licensed speech therapist before assuming any disorders resulting from a childhood speech and language delay.

ABA Therapy for Autism Disorder

In some cases, childhood development delays can be the sign of a more significant issue or a disorder that would benefit from ABA therapy services. While speech therapy focuses on expressing both verbal and non-verbal language, ABA therapy focuses on the various behaviors that may affect children’s environment with an autism diagnosis. If you are working to better support your child with autism, ABA therapists seek to do just that with both parents and children with autism.

ABA therapy is a specialized and flexible treatment created to suit the individual needs of your child. ABA therapy uses the concept of significant generalization, which allows the child to use the new skills learned in ABA therapy and apply them to different settings with different people. In ABA therapy, you will have the support of a professional therapist to explain the many ways in which you can support your child, such as the benefits of routines for children with autism and understanding the impact of mindfulness on this disorder.

The ABA therapy program at Blossom Children’s Center includes learnings from these successful models:

  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
  • Natural Environment Teaching (NET)
  • DI (Direct Instruction)

When it comes to childhood developmental delays, time is of the essence. With early intervention in speech therapy and ABA therapy, these developmental delays can go from off-track to in order. Through modeling, repetition, and positive reinforcements, your child can overcome developmental delays with ABA therapy.

4 Red Flags for Common Childhood Developmental Delays Infographic

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