Treating speech and other developmental delays early is important

Speech and other developmental delays in toddlers are very common, and children can outgrow those delays especially when addressed early.

Speech delay in toddlers is very common, along with other developmental delays in children such as motor skills, listening, understanding or social development.

About 15% to 20% of children nationally are affected by developmental delays. Children can outgrow those delays later in childhood, especially when delays are addressed early. The opportunity to treat developmental delays in the first three years of life is important, as that period is so critical to brain development.

“Early intervention and treatment is much more effective,” said Darren M. Farber, D.O., a child neurologist with Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

In addition to addressing the specific delays, intervention and treatment can help with a child’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and mood issues, according to Dr. Farber.

A developmental delay is different from developmental disability. Children with a developmental disability have a lifelong issue. They can make improvements and thrive with intervention and therapy, but they will have a disability of some sort throughout their lives.

Developmental delays and disabilities typically are diagnosed after a physical exam, a family history and tests. The observations of parents and caregivers also are important.

The tests needed to reach a diagnosis vary from child to child, depending on the developmental issue. Possible tests include a genetic test, a blood test, a test of vision or hearing, tests of electrical activity in the brain and other brain imaging.

Assessing the child may involve a team that could include a neurologist, pediatrician, psychologist, geneticist, educator and a social worker. They are looking at five major areas: motor skills, speech, social skills, cognitive abilities and activities of daily living.

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There are many possible causes of development delays and disabilities. These include:

  • Inherited conditions
  • Issues with the physical structure of the brain
  • Issues during pregnancy — such as drug exposure, infection, an intrauterine growth restriction or preterm delivery
  • Issues during birth — such as a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain
  • Issues after birth — including seizures, feeding or body temperature issues, and exposure to lead

Learning disabilities can range in severity and typically fall into four categories:

  • Oral languages — listening, speaking and understanding
  • Reading comprehension and decoding
  • Written language and spelling
  • Mathematics and computational problem-solving

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a learning disability by itself, according to Dr. Farber, though it’s present in about a third of children who have learning disabilities.

“Since they have normal intellect, appropriate therapies and having an educational program in place can help them overcome their condition and navigate around their learning challenges,” he said.

Autism is a common developmental disability, causing a delay in language and social development typically beginning at 2½ to 3 years of age. These children often have a lot of obsessive-compulsive behavior and also can have behavioral issues.

Cerebral palsy is another relatively common developmental disability, caused by an injury to the central nervous system early in brain development. It doesn’t get worse as a child gets older, but the injury affects motor skills throughout life.


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