Skip to Content

How to Help a Child With Developmental Delay

Developmental delays can be a big worry and concern for parents. When young kids don’t progress at the same rate as other children in physical, emotional, social, communication, and thinking skills, it may be due to a developmental delay. A child with developmental delay needs extra help to do everyday things compared to children of the same age.

Understanding that children grow and develop at their own pace is so important. If you’re worried about your child’s progress being ‘normal’, remember that ‘normal’ can mean lots of different things! But as a general guide, you might be concerned about developmental delay if you notice that, over several months, your child isn’t developing motor, social or language skills at the same rate as other children the same age.

Developmental delay can be short term, so it’s important to seek help early to help your child grow and develop.

This blog shares tips on supporting a child with developmental delays, with a focus on early childhood intervention, available supports, the NDIS, and the role of early childhood key workers.

What Can Developmental Delay Look Like in a Child?

Developmental delay refers to a condition where a child is slower to reach developmental milestones than other children. It can affect various areas, including speech and language, motor skills, cognitive abilities, and social-emotional development.

Children with developmental delay may have trouble playing with other children, getting themselves dressed, talking, or understanding simple instructions.

Common Symptoms or Signs

Kids grow and learn at their own pace. If you’re wondering if your child’s development is ‘normal’, it’s good to know that ‘normal’ can look different for every child. But as a general rule, if you see your child not picking up motor, social, or language skills like other kids their age over a few months, you may want to talk to a health professional such as your GP, maternal health nurse, or your pediatrician.

What is considered developmentally “normal” for a child varies greatly. Signs of developmental delay in a child could include [2]:

Poor language and communication skills such as:

  • Child’s speech is more difficult to understand compared to other children of the same age
  • Child is over two years old and uses no or very few words
  • Child only imitates speech of others

Delayed social and emotional skills examples:

  • Your child over six months does not smile or show affection to caregivers
  • Your child aged over one does not engage in back-and-forth gestures like waving or facial expressions
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Poor play skills

Delayed gross and fine motor skills examples:

  • Your child over one year is unable to sit unsupported
  • Your child over 18 months is not able to walk
  • Your child over three years is unable to climb

Concerns with vision or hearing examples:

  • Your child does not respond to loud noises or their name being called
  • Your child has one or both eyes turned in or out

Delays in learning or cognition examples:

  • Loss of any skills that have already been learned
  • by two years of age, does not imitate words or is able to follow simple instructions

If your child has a delay in one of these areas, they may be assessed as having a developmental delay. If they have a delay in two or more areas, this is called a Global Developmental Delay or GDD.

Can a Child with Developmental Delay Catch Up?

Developmental delay can be long or short term. Conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disability and learning disability are examples of long-term developmental delays.

Most importantly, most children with short term developmental delays do catch up. Early intervention is key to helping your child with a delay reach developmental milestones.

How to Diagnose

If you notice that your child seems to be developing or growing slower than other children of the same age, make an appointment with your GP or visit your Maternal and Child Health Nurse.

The term ‘developmental delay’ is often used by health professionals as a broad description of the child’s condition. Once the cause of the delay is determined, a more specific term will be used.

Early Childhood Partners are teams of early childhood professionals including early childhood educators, speech pathologists and occupational therapists. Your Early Childhood partner will gather information as evidence to determine whether your child fits the criteria for a developmental delay [1].

This evidence can be gathered through:

  • Conversations with you and or early childhood educators
  • Reports from other professionals
  • Observations of the child, and
  • Assessment and screening tools

Your Early Childhood Partner will use this evidence to recommend appropriate supports for your child. If your child is likely to fit the criteria for developmental delay, they may suggest applying to the NDIS.

Strategies to Assist with Developmental Delay

Which strategies may be best for your child depends on their functional challenges.

They may also be limited by the capacity of your child’s environment to address their needs (due to access to resources, etc).

Your child’s support workers will tailor strategies to suit your child and their goals.

How to Help a Child with Developmental Delays at School

As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is have a good relationship with your child’s teacher and school. Having consistent communication will help strategies to be implemented in the classroom and their effectiveness relayed back to you.

Some suggestions could be:

  • A classroom visual schedule
  • Work with education staff to set achievable goals for your child
  • Visual aids while teaching to assist with comprehension
  • Simple language and clear instructions
  • Extra time to complete tasks
  • Warnings before transitions between activities
  • Access early intervention support

How to Help a Child with Developmental Delays at Home

  • Create a set routine for the day to provide structure
  • Encourage physical play: this could be achieved through an activity such as dancing around the house or backyard basketball, climbing trees, playdough, cooking together
  • Cognitive tasks such as puzzles, scavenger hunts, hide and seek games
  • Social stories or picture cards to explain events or routines
  • Create a visual schedule to help with transitions
  • Be patient when they communicate with you; get down to their level and give them time to get the words out
  • Model positive behaviour and provide clear, consistent expectations of behaviour
  • PLAY! As much as possible!
  • Access early intervention support

Utilising an Early Childhood Intervention Specialist and Key Worker

An Early Childhood Intervention Specialist will use their expertise to assess the functional impact of your child’s developmental delay. They will be able to identify realistic goals and refer you to the correct supports to help your child reach the best possible outcomes [3].

A key worker is one consistent point of contact for you and your child’s early intervention services. They are qualified to deliver therapies outlined by your child’s Occupational Therapist, Speech Pathologist, Behavioural Therapist and other specialists.

The key worker gets to know your child and family on a deeper level, focusing on building relationships and trust to be able to tailor therapies to suit your child and ease the stress of transitions.

The most impactful way to achieve positive outcomes for your child is to have a skilled early intervention team working collaboratively to support them and their unique needs.


A diagnosis is a label of a specific set of symptoms experienced by your child. This label can help specify which therapies may be beneficial to your child and help you communicate your child’s challenges to others.

Developmental delay is a general description of slower development of certain skills or milestones compared to other children of the same age.

What is ‘normal’ development for a child varies greatly and many who are determined as having a developmental delay catch up to their peers! Achieving positive outcomes is closely linked to starting intervention as early as possible.

There are many ways to help a child with developmental delay; utilising strategies at home and at school or education setting are important to encourage their participation and ability to complete everyday activities.

Key workers and other support services are invaluable in progressing your child’s development; To start your child’s early intervention journey with Everyday Independence, fill out form or call us on 1300 179 131.


[1] NDIS, 2024. Developmental Delay and the Early Childhood Approach.

[2] WebMD, 2023. Recognising Developmental Delays in Young Children.

[3] Raising Children Network, 2022. Developmental Delays 0-8 Years.

Clinical Career Pathways

Choose from seven clinical career pathways on your journey towards becoming a change maker.

Sign up to our newsletter

Become part of the Everyday Independence community by joining our monthly newsletter to learn about latest news and events across Australia.