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What is global developmental delay?

Global developmental delay is the general term used to describe the condition in which children are significantly delayed in all areas of development.

Babies and children usually develop certain skills and abilities in a fairly predictable order and at fairly predictable ages. Whilst all children grow at slightly different rates, the difference for children with global developmental delay is that they often do not develop these skills until a much later age than would be expected. 

Children's development can be grouped into four main areas:-

  • Motor skills: this includes both gross motor skills, such as sitting up or rolling over, and fine motor skills such as picking up small objects

  • Speech and language: this includes babbling, imitating speech and identifying sounds, as well as understanding what other people are trying to communicate to them

  • Cognitive skills: the ability to learn new things, process information, organise their thoughts and remember things

  • Social and emotional skills: interacting with others and developing personal traits and feelings, as well as starting to understanding and respond to the needs and feelings of others.

Each of these areas has particular milestones which children would be expected to reach; for example sitting up, walking, talking and toilet training.

Children can be classed as having global developmental delay if they do not reach two or more milestones in all of the four areas of development.

In some children the delay is suspected soon after birth because of feeding difficulties or muscle-tone, while in others it is suspected later when learning or behaviour difficulties occur at school.


More information

Global Developmental Delay is believed to affect about 1-3% of the population.

The most common causes of Global Development Delay are chromosomal and/or genetic abnormalities, or abnormalities with the structure or development of the brain or spinal cord. Other causes can include premature birth or infections, such as Congenital Rubella or Meningitis. However, often the cause is never able to be fully identified.

There is no single treatment for Global Developmental Delay, but there are therapies and interventions which can help with a child's development. These can include input from:

With the right type and level of support from both professionals and their families, children with Global Developmental Delay can thrive and reach their full potential.

If you are concerned about your child's development then you should first speak to their GP.

Further information and support can be found on the Contact a Family website.

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