There are few things more joyful than welcoming a child into your family. As your baby grows, however, you may start to be concerned that they seem to be behind their siblings or other children that you know. They may even seem to be doing well until they suddenly stop progress – or even reverse progress.
If your child is missing developmental milestones, it may be a sign that they have a developmental disability. These types of disabilities can have a number of causes, including infections, genetic conditions, exposure to toxins, and trauma. They may also be caused by a birth injury.
What Is a Developmental Delay?
Children grow and learn at their own pace. However, doctors have set certain guidelines for when kids typically reach certain physical (motor skills), social, language, and cognitive milestones. If a child has not reached a particular milestone, then it may be a sign that they have a developmental delay.
Developmental delays can take many forms. A child may progress through developmental phases as expected, and then their process slows, stops, or even reverses. Alternatively, they may have always been “behind” their peers in reaching certain milestones. Symptoms may include slower-than-typical development of motor skills, cognitive skills, and social and emotional skills.
For example, between the ages of 4 and 6 months, a baby should develop better head control and start to roll over from their stomach. They should be able to grasp small objects, such as your finger or a rattle. A baby of this age should start to babble and respond to sounds. They should also develop better vision, and do things like turn their head to watch as a ball rolls across the floor. If they aren’t doing these things, it may be a sign that they have some delays.
Minor developmental delays may not be a concern. However, when a child has ongoing, significant, and/or multiple delays in reaching milestones it may be a sign that they have one or more developmental disabilities. Common conditions associated with developmental delays include autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, muscular dystrophy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or a rare condition such as Fragile X Syndrome.
Parents who suspect that their child has a developmental disorder should talk to their pediatrician. Early intervention with treatments such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy can help a child progress as they move into adulthood. A healthcare provider can evaluate your child and potentially offer a diagnosis that helps parents understand why their child isn’t hitting certain milestones.
What Causes Developmental Delays?
Developmental delays have many potential causes. Most often, they are caused by premature birth, a birth injury or trauma, medical problems (such as a stroke during neonatal development), and even lead poisoning. In some cases, the cause of a developmental disability is unknown.
Common causes of developmental delays include:
- Being born prematurely
- A birth injury
- Oxygen deprivation during labour and delivery, including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE, or birth asphyxia) with is associated with cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, and other conditions
- Genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome or muscular dystrophy
- Metabolic disorders, including phenylketonuria (PKU)
- Trauma to the brain, which may occur due to the use of forceps or a vacuum during labour and delivery
- Exposure to toxins, including alcohol, certain drugs, and/or lead
- Maternal infections during pregnancy
- Infections in the infant or child, particularly chronic infections
Importantly, different types of delays can have different causes. For example, a child may be diagnosed with a language delay and/or speech delay due to chronic ear infections, which can cause hearing loss. This type of delay may have several other potential causes, including child abuse or neglect, a learning disability, autism spectrum disorder, or a problem with the muscles that control speech (dysarthria).
Similarly, vision delays may be caused by genetic conditions such as infantile cataracts, strabismus (cross eyes), or amblyopia (lazy eye). It may also be linked to preterm birth, as infants who are born prematurely may develop an eye disease, retinopathy of prematurity, that can affect vision.
Delays in the development of gross or fine motor skills are often caused by preterm birth, as children who are born prematurely may not develop muscles at the same rate as children who were born full-term. Other possible causes of motor skill delays include cerebral palsy, cognitive delays, spina bifida, ataxia, myopathy, and problems with vision.
Some children experience social and emotional delays in their development, which may not become apparent until a child starts school. These delays may be caused by abuse or neglect, cognitive delays, and a number of conditions that may be associated with birth injuries, such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Finally, cognitive delays have a number of potential causes, including significant medical problems before birth, prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol, or other toxins, and genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome. In many cases, the cause of a cognitive delay is unknown.
It is important to understand that there is a wide range of normal development in children. Many children simply hit milestones at a different time than their peers, and have no long-term disability or lasting effects from these delays. However, when a delay is more severe or persistent, then it may be related to a mental health or medical condition.
Early diagnosis is often critical to achieve the best possible outcome for your child. If you suspect that your son or daughter is behind on motor skills, social skills, emotional development, or cognitive development, it is vital that you consult with your doctor as soon as possible.
How a Birth Injury Lawyer Can Help
Developmental delays have many possible causes, including genetics, exposure to toxins, and medical conditions. In some cases, there may be no known cause of a developmental delay. However, if a child’s developmental disability is linked to a birth injury that was caused by medical negligence, then you may be able to file a lawsuit against the responsible medical provider.
Legal action may be the best option for getting the compensation that you need to ensure that your child has the best possible outcome in life. If you believe that your child’s developmental disability or other disability was caused by negligence, a birth injury lawyer can explain your rights and legal options to you. For assistance with an HIE case or another type of birth injury, call BILA today at 1-800-300-BILA. You can also fill out our online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation with a birth injury lawyer in your province.
Is There a Difference Between a Developmental Disability and a Developmental Delay?
The terms “developmental disability” and “developmental delay” are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two terms.
Developmental delays may be a sign of a developmental disability. However, not all developmental delays are disabilities. It is possible for a child to outgrow or catch up from a developmental delay, particularly with early intervention and therapies. Developmental disabilities are lifelong, although children who have these types of disabilities can still make progress and overcome some issues.
Are Developmental Delays Always Linked to Birth Injuries?
No. There are many possible causes of developmental delays, including inherited conditions. However, it may be possible that medical negligence during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or after birth caused a developmental delay or associated disability. For example, certain maternal infections during pregnancy are associated with developmental delays. If a treating physician failed to appropriately diagnose and treat the mother, then their medical negligence may have caused the delay. Similarly, a failure to properly monitor and intervene during labour and delivery may lead to a birth injury that causes a developmental delay.
If your child has been diagnosed with a developmental disability, a birth injury lawyer can help you understand if you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Call BILA to schedule a consultation with an experienced birth injury lawyer in your province.
How Do I Know If My Child Has a Developmental Delay?
First, it is important to understand that children may hit developmental milestones at different times for any number of reasons. With that in mind, if you suspect that your child might have one or more delays, then guidelines for developmental milestones can be helpful. If you notice that your child is not hitting one or more milestones – or if they are regressing and losing certain skills – then it is a good idea to talk to a doctor. In addition, your child’s pediatrician should ask about these milestones during their regular check-ups throughout infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood.
If your child does have a developmental delay, therapies and other interventions can be incredibly helpful. If those delays were caused by a birth injury, then you may be entitled to financial compensation that can help you pay for these and other treatments. Reach out to BILA to talk to a birth injury lawyer in your province.