Teaching Children with Global Developmental Delay

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

As a classroom teacher, you will have students with many different needs and diagnoses. It is important to be prepared with a basic understanding of some of the more common disability labels. In this lesson, you will learn some basic principles to use in teaching students with global developmental delay.

What Is Global Developmental Delay?

Mrs. Petersen just learned that she has a new student named Kelsea coming to her kindergarten class. Kelsea has an IEP and has been diagnosed with a global developmental delay. What should Mrs. Petersen expect? How can she prepare to teach Kelsea in a way that meets her learning needs?

A global developmental delay occurs when a child between the ages of birth and eighteen displays significant cognitive delays, as well as delays in other developmental domains. The developmental domains include communication, gross motor, fine motor, social/emotional, cognitive, and self-help.

Global developmental delays can have a wide variety of causes, such as autism, Down syndrome, and various genetic and chromosomal disorders. When teaching a student with global developmental delays, it is less important to identify the cause than to address the student's areas of need.

Teaching to Target the Developmental Domains

A student with a diagnosis of global developmental delays should have an individualized education plan (IEP) that addresses their areas of delay and contains goals specific to each domain in which they have a delay.

If you are a part of the IEP development team, you should be using assessments that compare the student's performance to performance typical of children of the same age. The team then works together to develop appropriate goals.

If a student enters your class with an IEP already in place, you should familiarize yourself with the student's current level of performance and the goals and objectives that are in place.

When considering teaching a student with delays, keep in mind the behavior and performance that is expected of a typically developing student of the same age. Your strategies and interventions will vary depending on the age/grade level of the students you teach. Now, let's take a look at the different areas and some strategies you can utilize in your classroom.

Consider the needs of the student in these developmental domains.
developmental domains


Communication delays affect a student's ability to make their needs and ideas known. Communication goals sometimes include adaptive technology, like reading guides or writing supports. When considering communication, look at the student's goals and plan ways to work on those goals in naturally occurring classroom contexts.

Kelsea generally speaks in one or two word phrases. She has a goal to use three to five word sentences to make requests and answer questions. Mrs. Petersen looks for opportunities to ask Kelsea questions, then support her in expanding her answers. For example, she asks Kelsea which crayon Kelsea wants. When Kelsea says ''red,'' Mrs. Petersen prompts her to say ''I want the red one.''

Gross Motor

Students with gross motor delays often require special equipment and environmental modifications and adaptations. Learn about your student's motor delays from parents and physical therapists. The physical therapist will supply you with the equipment necessary for your student to participate in the school day. This might include special seating or walkers.

Your task is to observe how the student is able to use the equipment throughout the day, and report any problems to the physical therapist. You can also note times of day when the student has trouble participating due to posture or other physical delays and brainstorm, with the physical therapist, ways to give the student easier access.

Kelsea uses a wheelchair much of the time, but she is also learning to use a walker. Mrs. Petersen brings Kelsea's walker outside at recess and helps her to get set up to use it to walk around with her friends.

Fine Motor

In the area of fine motor, a student may need accommodations such as specialized pencil grips and adapted paintbrushes, scissors, crayons, or various technological supports.

Kelsea uses a large pencil with a pencil grip as well as adapted scissors. Mrs. Petersen reminds Kelsea to use these items and makes sure Kelsea has them when necessary.


Students with cognitive delays should have access to grade level curriculum. They may need some modifications and supports. Sometimes while the class works on a new skill, the student with a delay works on the prerequisite skills necessary to perform the new skill.

For example, Mrs. Petersen's class is working on addition of numbers up to twenty. Kelsea uses the same manipulatives as her classmates, but works on her goal of counting five to ten items with one to one correspondence.

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