How Best To Respond To Your Child's Developmental Delay

If you have identified potential development delays in your child, it is time to look at how you can prepare yourself and also, support your child in the best possible way. Here are some insights...

By Team ParentCircle  • 12 min read

How Best To Respond To Your Child's Developmental Delay
Early intervention is vital for your child's developmental delay

It is not easy when you learn your child has a developmental delay or disability. The world comes crashing down. A sea of emotions takes over and you are left wondering — 'Why me', 'Will my child ever be able to be independent', 'What will happen to my child when I grow old', and so on… But remember, there are treatment options available out there. And yes, most importantly, it is the way you, as a parent, react and respond that will make the greatest difference.

The emotional journey

When you discover your child has a development delay, you are often struck by a wave of oscillating emotions:

  • Shock
  • Grief
  • Guilt (self-blame)
  • Anger on self and others
  • Confusion
  • Doubt and fear
  • Shame
  • Helplessness
  • Denial

Well, it is okay to feel that way as this ‘first reaction’ is only considered natural. You need someone to talk to at this stage. Do not hesitate to express your emotions to a stable friend, family member or a counsellor. And when the oscillation and turmoil settles down, you will find strength to cope with the situation.


The first step is to accept the reality. Your immediate and extended family may be supportive, intrusive or in denial. Your priority should be to take time to deal with your emotions before attending to the outside world. A relative may even misguide you about your child's condition. But, as a rule, acting early is the best thing you can do. In medical terms, early intervention is the best solution.

Even if the delay is due to a severe condition, you will still be able to improve the quality of your child’s life. If you are reading this and feel you haven't acted early, do not feel guilty. There is still time and hope. After all, you are the parent and you know best. Trust your gut and find the right help.

Assessment and early intervention

Take your child to an early intervention specialist who will be able to screen and assess your child’s development and guide you on the future course of action. This will involve a combination of treatment and therapy for your child. You too will be given necessary counselling. If not, ask for it. While assessment and intervention can be of help to your child, remember to find support for yourself by reaching out to other parents, communities or support groups for knowledge and help.

Caring for the child 

Feeling sorry and being overprotective will not help your child. There will be things your child can do despite her differences. Encourage that independence. Seek guidance from your therapist or doctor to understand how you can help your child at home. Let your child feel capable and important. Build on her strengths.

Being informed

Awareness and education about your child’s condition is essential. Read extensively, talk to people with knowledge, and ask your doctor. Improve your knowledge on the subject and empower yourself with challenges and opportunities. This can make a big difference.

It is the way you, as a parent, react and respond that will make the greatest difference.

Types of developmental delays

If it is only a developmental delay, it can be reversed. Sometimes, a delay is a sign of an underlying developmental disorder. Seek medical help if you feel your child has issues in any of these areas. Only a practitioner can do the right assessment and diagnosis.

1. Speech and language delays

Ability to speak and understand language. 

When to see the doctor

12 months: Doesn’t use gestures to communicate

15 months: Isn’t saying any words

2 years: Uses only a few words repeatedly

4 years: Repeats what you ask. Does not make meaningful sentences

Other signs: Has a hoarse, raspy or gravelly voice while speaking. Seems to stutter

2. Motor delays

Issues with muscle coordination — movement, gripping, holding, etc.

When to see the doctor

3 months: Does not reach out to or grasp objects

6 months: Doesn’t roll over or sit without support

9 months: Is not crawling or pulling up to stand

18 months: Is not walking on her own or pushing a wheeled toy

3. Vision delays

Blurry vision, eye-related problems.

When to see the doctor

3 months: Does not follow objects that move, has trouble moving eyes

6 months: Constant tearing or dryness, other eye abnormalities

4. Social and emotional delays 

Trouble interacting or mingling with other children and adults.

When to see the doctor

6 months: Does not laugh or squeal

12 months: Does not respond to gestures or show any gesture

5. Cognitive delays

Problems with thinking or understanding.

When to see the doctor

1 year: Does not point to objects 

2 years: Does not respond to simple instructions. Does not understand the use of common objects at home (like spoon, brush, etc.)

Understanding and caring for the sibling

It will not be easy for the sibling. Your other child is also dealing with his own turmoil. He too struggles with his own feelings about his sibling’s condition.

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Deprived attention
  • Weight of responsibility and sacrifices
  • Shame and embarrassment

The sibling’s emotions are as valid as yours and therefore, you may need to deal with emotional outbursts from him. Let him know his feelings are accepted. Reassure him that he is just as important, but at this moment, you are taking time to identify ways to help his sibling who needs extra attention. Make him a part of the journey, but do not overburden him with responsibility.

Dealing with people

You are doing all you can to help your child. What happens when strangers stare at your child for more time than necessary? It requires a great deal of emotional strength to deal with these looks, comments, isolation and rejection.

Two things you can do

  1. It will hurt, but it will hurt less when you understand it is natural for people to notice when something is different. You will then not be overwhelmed.
  2. Decide on how you want to react to people, so you can maintain your emotional balance without losing your cool.

Your child’s school

Find a supportive and inclusive school based on your therapist's advice and your own instincts. Visit the school and talk to them about your needs.

Some questions to ask yourself when you are looking for a school:

  • Are they inclusive?
  • Are they open to communication?
  • What are the facilities you look for in the school? Does the school have them?
  • What is the student-teacher ratio in a class? Will your child be getting necessary attention?
  • Are the teaching and non-teaching staff understanding and trained?


'Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel'. – Eleanor Brown

Take up a hobby or connect with a friend to relax. When someone genuinely volunteers to help, grab it. Or better still, ask for help.

With the right spirit and support, you will be able to help your child grow into adulthood with confidence. After all, there are children with developmental issues who turned out to be great thinkers, innovators, scientists and artists. Your child too can.

Parent speak

“The first time I knew my daughter Uma, then six-months-old, was hearing impaired, I couldn’t believe it! The first few days after diagnosis were mentally gruelling for my husband and me. And then, on the third day when Uma crawled up to me with her toothless grin, something hit me – this is more about her than about us. If a mentally exhausted and depressed mother can still make her feel secure and loved, she will do much better in life with understanding, strong and supportive parents. We pulled ourselves together to focus on making Uma’s life better.

Today, Uma (30) is a confident young mother who converses (in her own way) with her sons and manages her home just like anyone else. It is not like the pain isn’t there. I wish my daughter was able to listen to songs or speak to us over the phone. But, when she comes home all bright and shining like there cannot be a better day, I realise it’s her happiness that matters. It lights up my soul.”

– Angamuthu (50), Pondicherry

"When I found out my perfect five-year-old son had a learning disability, I was shattered. I had the support of the whole family and yet, I felt alone. Then, one day I decided to stand up and help my son. From therapists, doctors, schools and communities (support groups and Face Book groups), I took all the help I could. Today, Saranyan (12) is able to cope with his lessons. He goes to cricket coaching, loves painting and plays violin too. He is two classes behind, but he will do okay in life and that’s what matters. And honestly, I see tremendous personal growth in me going through this with him."

– Ranjani (32), Chennai

In nature, there is a pattern and pace at which children grow and develop. Read more about the milestones chart in our article published a week ago. Keep track of your child’s overall development and consult your doctor regularly on the subject. If something is amiss, there will be clear indications in the way a child acts or reacts. Do not hesitate to approach your doctor. Remember, early intervention has been proven to enhance the development of a child who has issues. 

Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged at home during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.

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