What if You Suspect a Developmental Delay?

Even if your baby was born healthy, unexpected delays and disabilities can appear as your child grows. It can be scary and confusing to discover your child may have special needs. Mighty Mommy has 5 steps to take if you suspect your child isn’t reaching developmental milestones.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #217

Step #2: You Know Your Child Better Than Anyone

Remember: You know your child better than anyone. As you interact with your child, you get to know your child's personality better than any doctor ever could. Some children do not like a lot of noise or chatter and some children like certain types of foods more than others. All children are different, just as all adults are different. As you get to know your baby, if there's an issue, you may sense when something is not quite "right."

Children develop at different rates, but there are general guidelines or age markers for typical milestones. If you feel that your child isn't developing typically, seems a bit behind other children his age, or hasn't reached any milestones within the typical age ranges, talk to your child's doctor.

Before speaking with your doctor, keep a log of your observations and your concerns. Keep a written list or a chart noting things such as:

  • Age

  • What your concern is at every age (language, walking, eating, etc.)

  • Specific times you are noticing your concern (to see if there is a pattern or connection with times of day, certain places, etc.)

  • Behaviors or concerns when around other people (note if your concerns only occur in certain situations, around other people or social settings)

  • Social behaviors such as interacting with you or caregivers, making eye contact, unexplained anger or resistance to certain textures, sounds, foods, or getting overwhelmed (such as in a crowded store), or loud atmosphere (such as a place with lots of kids shrieking and playing).

  • Is there consistency to your concern or does the situation only happen randomly? (For example, does your child only try to talk when frustrated, and otherwise seems content being non-verbal?)

Step #3: What Should I do if I Suspect a Developmental Delay?

If you notice that your child does not seem to be progressing at what is considered a normal level of development, you should first consult your pediatrician and then perhaps a developmental pediatrician. There is a normal range of development and some children begin slowly but then catch up. But if your child is not progressing "normally" it helps to intervene as fully and as early as possible (keeping in mind that the norms established by the medical community are based on averages and do not include outliers).

Go with your gut instinct. Don’t accept others dismissing your concerns by saying “You worry too much,” or “That will go away in a few months.” You know your child and are his or her best advocate.   If your child seems to be losing ground—in other words, starts to lose skills that he could do in the past—you should seek professional input for your concerns right away.

As a word of caution from my personal experience: Try with all your might to go into these developmental evaluations with an open mind. Be prepared to hear a lot of strange and scary terms that you may not be familiar with. Do not borrow worry and fall apart until you’ve had some time to digest any professional feedback (easier said than done, I know!). Nowadays, young children and their families have amazing opportunities and resources available to them that can help them overcome many types of delays. The children that have the best possible advantage are those who have strong, supportive family units!

Often, a diagnosis of a developmental delay is preliminary, until specialists can make a definitive diagnosis. It may take more time for your child's disorder (if there is one) to fully manifest itself. When we realized our son was not hitting milestone markers, our pediatrician guided us to a team of specialists which tested him in many different cognitive and social areas. This was a very difficult process for us, but it opened the door to seek the proper avenue of services to help him.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.