What is global developmental delay?

Global developmental delay describes the condition in which children are significantly delayed in all areas of development.

Babies and children usually develop certain skills and abilities at fairly predictable ages. While all children grow at different rates, the difference for children with global developmental delay is that they often don't develop these skills until a much later age than expected.

Children's development can be grouped into four main areas:

  • Motor skills – this includes both gross motor skills, such as sitting up or rolling over, and fine motor skills such as picking up small objects
  • Speech and language – this includes babbling, imitating speech and identifying sounds. It also includes understanding what other people are trying to communicate to them
  • Cognitive skills – the ability to learn new things, process information, organise their thoughts and remember things
  • Social and emotional skills – interacting with others and developing personal traits and feelings. Starting to understand and respond to the needs and feelings of others

Each of these areas has milestones which children would be expected to reach. For example sitting up, walking, talking and toilet training. Children can be classed as having global developmental delay if they don't reach two or more milestones in all of the four areas of development.

In some children the delay is suspected soon after birth because of feeding difficulties or muscle-tone. In others it's suspected later when learning or behaviour difficulties occur at school.

Global developmental delay is believed to affect about 1-3% of the population.

The most common causes of global developmental delay are chromosomal and/or genetic abnormalities, or abnormalities with the structure or development of the brain or spinal cord. Other causes can include premature birth or infections, such as congenital rubella or meningitis. However, often the cause is never able to be fully identified.

There is no single treatment for global developmental delay, but there are therapies and interventions. These can help with a child's development. Help can come from:

  • A Speech and Language Therapist
  • An Occupational Therapist
  • A Physiotherapist
  • Specialist support at school

With the right type and level of support from both professionals and their families, children with global developmental delay can thrive and reach their full potential.

If you are concerned about your child's development then you should first speak to their GP.

Help and support

Further information and support can be found on: