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Developmental Delay & Social Development

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Developmental delays not only impact an individual's physical and cognitive growth, but they can also play a large part in an individual's ability to socialize. Read this lesson to learn more about developmental delays and the significance of social delay.

Developmental Delay

Dylan is a fourteen-year-old boy who currently attends school, completes his chores, and asks his parents for help with his homework when needed. Ever since Dylan started school, however, it has been clear that he does not advance or develop as quickly as his peers.

Developmental delay refers to a physical, cognitive, or social delay in the sense that an individual lags behind others in his or her peer group, or group of individuals at the same age or stage. Individuals can be delayed in one aspect while remaining unaffected in others, but the presence of several delays can create compounding effects on the individual. Delays should become alarming when they do not resolve over time, or when the individual is consistently unable to keep up with the physical, cognitive, and social achievements of their peers.

Delay: Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of delay vary due to the various types of delay and also the severity when compared to the individual's peer group. Dylan enjoyed playing with the same toys as the other children during his pre-kindergarten years and especially loved building blocks. His instructors first observed Dylan having difficulty stacking and collecting blocks along with balancing multiple blocks on top of each other. As the year progressed and despite Dylan's persistence and interest in playing with blocks, he remained unable to stack high block towers and complete other similar tasks like some of his classmates.

Being delayed does not mean that the individual has a disease or an illness; however, delays may indicate the presence of one or more underlying medical conditions or disorders that commonly result in developmental delays. Some medical conditions like autism, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, severe infection, and even some instances of neglect can be the root cause of various delays.

Developmental delays are ongoing, chronic problems that do not resolve over time. These delays are identified by the inability of the individual to meet developmental milestones, or target achievements for specific age groups. Milestones can be measured in the following ways.

  • Physically: Dylan continues to have difficulty with fine and gross motor skills. His inability to stack blocks was one of the first of many signs that there may be an underlying issue. Now that he is a teen, Dylan is unable to play many popular sports and has learned to pick up hobbies that don't require much hands-on activity or coordination.
  • Intellectually or Cognitively: Dylan does not suffer from any type of cognitive delay. He is able to think rationally and solve problems. In school, he enjoys learning about history and mathematics.
  • Socially: Even though Dylan verbally communicates with his peers, he has difficulty making friends and engaging in social events. He finds it hard to connect with others on an emotional level and has difficulty spending recreational time with others his age.

Impact on Social Development

While physical and cognitive delays are defined by their direct relationship to tasks and activities that are not meeting goals, social delays can be a secondary result of other delays. In other words, not only do physical delays, such as lack of muscle coordination and a balanced walking gait, impact the physical development of an individual, they may lead to delays in social development as well.

Social delays can also be the result of other existing delays that impact a person's ability to interact with others as expected. These types of delays are exhibited by difficulty communicating verbally, non-verbally, and emotionally and can be caused by conditions such as autism.

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