Is My Child Behind? Recognizing Developmental Delays & Supporting Their Needs

June 12, 2018
Health and Mental Care

By: Kalynn Hall, M.S. & Sylvia Collazo, M.Ed. - Doctoral Scholars at Florida Atlantic University


Having a little one means lots of fun chases around the house, never-ending battles during mealtimes, throwing a “potty party” for every toileting success, and never ceasing to answer the question “why.” However, sometimes young children do not do some of the things we think they should be doing or seem different from other children their age. It can be hard to be sure if you should be concerned if you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes, it is not a big deal, but sometimes, it could be a sign of a developmental delay. 

What is a developmental delay? 

A developmental delay is when a child does not meet key milestones at the same rate as other children their age. If you notice your child losing skills he/she already had or display any of the following behaviors, it is possible your child has a delay.



  • Doesn’t crawl
  • Can’t stand when supported
  • Doesn’t search for things that she sees you hide
  • Doesn’t say single words (“mama” or “dada”)
  • Doesn’t learn gestures like waving or shaking head or point to things
  • Doesn’t use 2-word phrases (“drink milk”)
  • Doesn’t know what to do with common things, like a brush, phone, fork, spoon
  • Doesn’t copy actions and words
  • Doesn’t follow simple instructions
  • Doesn’t walk steadily



  • Falls down a lot or has trouble with stairs
  • Drools or has very unclear speech
  • Can’t work simple toys (such as peg boards, simple puzzles, turning handle)
  • Doesn’t speak in sentences
  • Doesn’t understand simple instructions
  • Doesn’t play pretend or make-believe
  • Doesn’t want to play with other children or with toys
  • Doesn’t make eye contact
  • Can’t jump in place
  • Has trouble scribbling
  • Shows no interest in interactive games or make-believe
  • Ignores other children or doesn’t respond to people outside the family
  • Resists dressing, sleeping & using toilet
  • Can’t retell a favorite story
  • Doesn’t follow 3-part commands
  • Doesn’t understand “same” & “different”
  • Doesn’t use “me” & “you” correctly
  • Speaks unclearly

Adapted from Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). Developmental milestones. [1]

Without these foundational skills, many children fall further behind as they get older. Developmental delays can happen in one or many areas and can be mild to severe. Some areas where children may be delayed include: speech and/or language, gross motor skills (like crawling, walking or jumping), fine motor skills (like buttoning a shirt or using a spoon), and social emotional skills (like making friends or following rules). The good news? With the support of early intervention services, many of these children can catch up to their peers. [2]

What is Early Intervention?

Early intervention is a range of services designed to help young children with special needs meet their developmental goals. Most of these services are provided for free; however, many families do not know whether their child needs these services or how to access them. In fact, up to 13% of children birth to three-years-old have a disability that qualifies them for early intervention, but few actually receive it. [2]

Where Can I Get Help? 

Broward County’s FREE screenings and early intervention services are available through different agencies depending on the age of the child. Early Steps (under the Children's Diagnostic and Treatment Center) screens and provides support to children from birth until their third birthday. After that point, children can be referred to Child Find which evaluates and offers services through the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS), a part of Broward County Public Schools. Once a child is evaluated and identified as having a developmental delay, they are entitled to services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and/or speech-language therapy, based on the needs determined by their evaluation team. This group of professionals works together with families to develop a plan with goals and objectives to get their child on track with their development.

“I work with children and families. What can I do?”

Anyone can make a referral for early intervention! Most people believe that it is a doctor’s job to check if children are meeting their milestones, but many children are only seen by a doctor once a year for a wellness visit while others are unable to afford a visit at all. Therefore, it is vital that members of the community who work with children know the milestones, understand their role in informing families of available services, and refer young children for developmental screenings as needed. Visibly posting informational posters, pamphlets, and handouts in childcare facilities, preschools, community centers, libraries, and churches give families access to developmental milestone information and available resources. Having staff members who can address questions and help make referrals should a concern arise can ease the process for families and set the child on a path to success.



[1] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). Developmental milestones. Atlanta, GA: Division of Birth Defects, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

[2] Goode, Diefendorf, & Colgan. (2011). The importance of early intervention for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Washington, DC: National Early ChildhoodnTechnical Assistance Center (NACTAC). Retrieved from

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