Can a Developmentally Delayed Child Catch Up?

By Angela Darland
Having a developmental assessment can tell you if your child has a delay.
Having a developmental assessment can tell you if your child has a delay.

As a parent, you worry about your child. You want to make sure he is healthy, happy and meeting his developmental milestones. If you suspect that your child has a developmental delay, you are likely curious if he will be able to catch up to his peers. The rate of progress will depend on the underlying reason for the delay.

Developmentally Delayed?

All children learn at their own rate, so you may be wondering if your child is actually delayed or just a late walker or talker. Often the advice given to parents is to just wait and see, as your pediatrician understands that children often have big developmental bursts rather than slow, steady progress. A child who isn't talking at all at 15 months may start to talk constantly seemingly overnight. However, it's easy and generally free to have your child evaluated to determine if a developmental delay is present. Every state has early childhood intervention programs for children from birth to age 3. After that, the school district will do testing for children ages 3 to 21, according to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.

Underlying Causes

Some children have developmental delays caused by underlying conditions such as Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, metabolic disorders or vision or hearing loss, among others. If this is the case, your child will need treatment for the underlying issue as well as therapy for the developmental delay. However, many children have developmental delays with no identifiable underlying cause. Some children are simply on their own schedule and will catch up without intervention. Others will benefit from therapy services, like those provided by early childhood intervention agencies. These agencies provide many types of services from speech therapy and physical therapy to counseling services and nutritional counseling.

How a Developmental Delay is Determined

If your child is under 3, your local early childhood intervention agency will provide a developmental evaluation to determine if your child is eligible for their services. Services are offered on a sliding fee scale according to the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. If your child is over the age of 3, contact your local school district for evaluation. Standardized tests that are used to determine eligibility are based on what age the majority of children master a skill, and most of these skills have ranges rather than one set age. As most children master walking between 12 to 15 months, this is the age range at which walking is expected. Your child would not be considered delayed unless he wasn't walking by 16 months of age.

Catching Up

There is a saying in early childhood intervention circles that early is best. A child whose delay is found early is more likely to catch up due to the tremendous amount of brain development that occurs in the first five years of life. Early childhood intervention programs work so well because they are family centered and relationship based, says Michael J. Guralnick, Ph.D., in the "Infant and Young Children Interdisciplinary Journal of Early Childhood Intervention." While no one can tell you with absolute, 100 percent certainty whether or not your child will catch up completely, most children will make progress with therapy. Catching the delay early and getting proper treatment will go a long way toward helping your child make as much progress as possible.

About the Author

Angela Darland has worked in the field of early childhood since 1998 as a certified Early Intervention Specialist, trainer, conference presenter and writer. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M, an MBA from TWU and an endorsement as an Infant Mental Health Specialist from the Texas Association of Infant Mental Health.