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Recognising developmental delays in your child: Ages three to five

As you watch your child grow, it is important to remember that each child develops at his or her own pace. The range of normal development is quite wide. However, it is helpful to recognise some red flags for potential developmental delays in children. These are significant lags in one or more areas of emotional, mental or physical growth.

If you are wondering whether your child is experiencing a delay, do not wait to find out. Seek advice right away. Early intervention is the best way to help him or her make progress. Unfortunately, fewer than half of all children with developmental delays are identified before starting school.

What are developmental delays in children?

There are many different types of developmental delays in children. They include problems with:

  • Language and speech
  • Movement, called motor skills
  • Emotional and social skills
  • Thinking, called cognitive skills.

Here are warning signs for different types of delays that may show up from the ages of three to five, as well as some of the causes of developmental delays and their potential types of treatment.

Language and speech delays in children

Language and speech problems are the most common type of developmental delay. Speech refers to verbal expression, including the way words are formed. Language is a broader system of expressing and receiving information, such as being able to understand directions.

Possible causes. A wide variety of factors may cause these language and speech delays, including:

Types of treatment. If you or child's doctor suspects a developmental delay, seek an evaluation by a speech and language therapist. This specialist may use speech therapy with your child. The specialist or doctor may also suggest that you:

  • Communicate more with your child; talk, sing and encourage repetition.
  • Read daily to your child.
  • Reinforce speech and language throughout the day.
  • Get treatment for middle ear infections.

Warning signs of speech or language delays

Seek medical advice if your child has any of these signs at these ages. In addition to these red flags, watch for any loss of skills already learned.

By three years, seek advice if your child:

  • Cannot talk in short phrases.

By four years, seek advice if your child:

  • Does not use sentences of more than three words
  • Uses "me" and "you" incorrectly.

By five years, seek advice if your child:

  • Has trouble understanding two-part commands with prepositions (e.g. "under" or "on")
  • Cannot give their first and last name
  • Does not use plurals or past tense correctly
  • Does not talk about their daily activities.
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