Social Delay in Children: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

'Social delay' is impairment in the ability to communicate and interact with others effectively. Learn more about social delay from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.


From the day we are born, we learn ways to communicate and interact with others effectively. For example, babies learn that by crying, they can get the attention of their parents, food brought to them, and a diaper change. Toddlers learn to laugh and smile when they are happy and to cry when they are sad. Children learn how to behave appropriately in school and ways to play with others.

Human beings are social creatures by nature. Most children learn social skills without giving much thought or effort to it. For others, especially those with autism and other pervasive developmental disorders, learning how to interact and communicate with others can be quite difficult. It is not uncommon for these children to experience social delays, which are impairments in the ability to interact and communicate with others in socially appropriate and effective ways.

Causes of Social Delays

So what causes children to experience social delays? One known cause is neglect. Neglect is defined as the failure of the parent, guardian, or some other responsible caregiver to take care of children's basic needs. Many children who are neglected grow up without normal social interaction. As a result, they may experience social delays. Having parents who have poor parenting skills can cause social delays in children. Children who have weak attachments to their parents have also been known to have social delays.

A common cause of social delay is pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs). PDDs are a group of psychological disorders that are characterized by delays in social development and communication skills. The list of PDDs are:

  • Autism
  • Asperger's syndrome
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Rett's syndrome
  • PDD not otherwise specified


Children may show both verbal and nonverbal signs of social delays. For example, a 3-year-old with a social delay may be unable to speak words or sentences. Toddlers with social delays may not smile, even when they are happy or looking at their parents. Children may be unable to carry conversations with their peers or may misinterpret what others say. Other examples of behaviors in children who have social delays include:

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