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What is developmental delay?

Developmental delay is when a child does not reach his/her developmental milestones by a time or age that is expected. Developmental milestones are tasks most children learn or develop that commonly appear in certain age ranges. For example, head control, rolling, crawling, walking and talking.

Child development refers to the process of development and the achievement of certain developmental milestones. Abnormal delays in development, preventing a child from reaching these milestones refers to developmental delay. These may affect a child’s motor, speech and language and social skills. A child that has delay in all these areas is said to have global developmental delay.

Child milestones develop in an ordered fashion over time.Children develop at different rates and have different strengths and weaknesses which means that a diagnosis of developmental delay is often difficult unless a child’s development is substantially below their expected level.

Physiotherapy treatment will improve motor developmental milestones such as rolling, sitting, crawling and walking and physical development such as balance, coordination and mobility. Physiotherapy will also promote correct positioning, and provide fun and stimulating exercises to gain postural stability and coordination. Physiotherapy will also aim to increase physical development by helping children achieve their milestones as soon as possible.

stability and co-ordination exercises assisted by an experienced paediatric physiotherapistAbove: stability and co-ordination exercises assisted by an experienced paediatric physiotherapist

What causes developmental delay?

Developmental delay may be caused by many reasons. Genetic and environmental factors have an increasing impact on a child’s development.

Genetic factors

Children are at risk of acquiring developmental delay if they are born with a genetic or chromosomal abnormality such as Down’s Syndrome. This abnormal development may occur in the womb while the baby is still growing.

strength and stretching rehabilitation exercises guided by paediatric physiotherapistAbove: strength and stretching rehabilitation exercises guided by paediatric physiotherapist

Environmental factors

Developmental delay may also occur due to premature birth, genetic and heredity disorders, and exposure to infections either before or after birth.

Every child with developmental delay present differently. Some children may have delays in a particular area, such as walking while the rest of their skills may continue developing on time.

A parent may become concerned if their child’s physical, speech, or intellectual development seems slower in one or more areas than the average range of development occurring in most children.Diagnosis may be complex as many other conditions have similar symptoms. Many children for whom the reason for their developmental delay may not be established will be classed as undiagnosed developmental delay.

Mobilisations and stretches of the hip and knee to improve flexibilityAbove: Mobilisations and stretches of the hip and knee to improve flexibility

What are the signs of motor developmental delay?

Motor developmental delay affects a child's ability to use their muscles and may involve fine and/or gross motor skills.

Gross motor delays affect the large muscles in the arms, legs or trunk resulting in movement difficulties.

Fine motor delays affect the smaller muscles, commonly in the hands which causes problems with handwriting and the ability to grasp objects.

Some of the signs of a motor delay include:
  • Achieving developmental milestones such as rolling, sitting, crawling and standing later than the predicted age
  • Stiffness in the upper and/or lower limbs
  • Reduced tone in the trunk compared with other children of a similar age
  • Difficulty with handwriting
  • Problem with tying shoelaces
  • One side of body is used significantly more than the other
  • Difficulty walking
  • Very clumsy compared with other children of a similar age
Physiotherapy treatment will improve a child’s motor skills by increasing muscle strength, improving balance and coordination and their quality of walking.

Physiotherapy for developmental delay

Physiotherapy treatment should be started as early as possible as a child’s brain can adapt easily therefore they respond well to treatment. Physiotherapy will help a child’s ability to learn how to complete everyday tasks more effectively and will improve balance, walking, handwriting and general physical activities.

At we offer an early intervention when waiting lists are long and you are looking for treatment. Our specialist neurological physiotherapists at are experienced in treating babies and children with developmental delay and significant progress can be made. Physiotherapy treatment will focus on:
  • Increasing muscle strength
  • Stretching stiff joints
  • Improving balance and coordination
  • Promoting normal patterns of movement
  • Achieving milestones
  • Achieving maximum potential
  • Improving quality of life
  • Promoting independence with everyday tasks
The physiotherapists at will promote physical development and the achievement of milestones as soon as possible, e.g. rolling, crawling and walking. Physiotherapy treatment may involve:
  • Exercises to increase muscle strength and control so that your child is able to shift their body weight and balance better
  • Exercises to increase mobility and their success of learning to walk based around everyday activities Physiotherapy may involve exercise for the hand to improve writing and grasping objects
  • Mirror imaging to increase your child’s awareness of where their limbs are in space at rest and during movement (proprioception)
  • Muscle stretching to lengthen muscles, reduce contractures and increase range of movement
  • Correcting and varying positioning to improve head and trunk control. For example, supporting your child in sitting to develop weight shifting, rotation, coordination and balance
  • Exercises to increase quality of movement or teaching new ways of moving
  • Advice about supportive devices such as using a wheelchair, orthotic devices or other adaptive equipment if necessary
  • Hydrotherapy treatment helps relax stiff muscles and joints and maximises mobility in water
Our motivated physiotherapists will improve your child’s mobility by encouraging motivation to move and exploration of the world around them.

Our physiotherapists understand that each person with developmental delay has different difficulties so our specialised treatment is suited to your child’s needs.

Physiotherapy treatment will involve using a variety of exercises that are both fun and effective in a stimulating and safe environment. Physiotherapy treatment has the ability to help your child achieve their maximum potential and develop independence.

We also offer also home-based programmes for preschool children. Our dedicated physiotherapists at will involve parents in the treatment programme and provide support and advice on exercise that should be carried out between treatments. If you would like to book a full assessment call us now on 0330 088 7800, book online or alternatively request a free phone consultation.

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