Developmental delay in children is a common reason for parents to get them at the Paediatric Neurology clinic and can be due to a large number of causes. There are several types of developmental delays in children and can affect a child’s cognitive, communication, social, physical, emotional, or behavioural skills. Developmental delays affect more than one area of a child’s development. When a child has delays in two or more or all of these areas, it is called global developmental delay.
Most developmental delays have an identifiable cause. Ascertaining the cause of developmental delay is crucial since the treatment plan and outcome will depend upon the underlying cause of delayed development, which is not a diagnosis by itself but rather a symptom of the disorder that is causing it.
Common causes of developmental delay (also known as cerebral palsy) include injury to the developing brain in-utero, or at the time of birth or immediately after birth due to a large variety of causes, accidental brain injury (including road traffic accidents, falls, etc.), as a result of severe brain infections (encephalitis or meningoencephalitis), genetic and chromosomal disorders, metabolic disorders, neuromuscular disorders to name a few.
Children may present as a motor delay only in neuromuscular disorders like myopathy, muscular dystrophy and hereditary neuropathy; as delay in language, communication and social spheres of development in autism spectrum disorders (see above), with or without additional delay in motor or adaptive developmental spheres. Children with cerebral palsy due to perinatal brain injury or genetic disorders usually have a global developmental delay.
Developmental delay requires a detailed evaluation by a paediatric neurologist who may, in turn, involve other necessary specialists depending on the child’s individual needs.
Treatment of developmental delay requires the management of the underlying cause and also neurodevelopmental therapy. Most children require a multi-disciplinary team approach for neurodevelopmental therapy. Such a team lead by a Paediatric Neurologist should also include Physiotherapist, Speech therapist, Occupational therapist, Audiologist, Child Psychologist, Child Psychiatrist, Geneticist, Paediatrician or Developmental Paediatrician, etc. With appropriate treatment and therapies, most kids with developmental delays improve over time.
Dr. Minal Kekatpure, Senior Consultant – Paediatric Neurology, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bangalore