Recognizing Developmental Delays in Children and When to Seek Help

Dr. Fanny WF LAM


Specialist in Developmental- Behavioural Paediatrics

Honorary Assistant Clinical Professor, University of Hong Kong

Tutor, The Association for Research in Infant and Child Development, UK



Since the first day of conception, human beings’ brains develop rapidly. In the first 1000 days of life, the fetus/infant/child’s brain forms approximately 700 new synaptic connections each second or upon each interaction with others. These synaptic connections develop and associate with senses such as vision, hearing and later establish more complex circuitry which supports the child’s motor skills, language mastery, and other cognitive functioning. If a child’s development deviates from normal limits, a standardized developmental assessment by a specialist should be put in place to further investigate the child's developmental needs, brain development and to provide intervention as early as possible.


Early signs of developmental issues:

  • Delay in Meeting milestones: milestones come in a range, which is determined by both genetic and environmental factors. Common milestones will be rolling over at 4-5 months, crawling at 9 months, walking independently at 12-13 months, babbling at 4-5 months and speaking the first meaningful word (e.g. dada for daddy, mama for mommy) at 8-9 months, combining words at 18 months
  • Abnormal or asymmetrical posture or movements
  • Lack of eye contact, social smile or interest to interact
  • Feeding problems e.g. picky diet, difficulty chewing
  • Sleep problems: e.g. trouble falling into sleep and persistent intermittent wakings at night
  • Parents’ concern in hearing and vision


Early intervention

Nobel prize laureate Professor James Heckman states that in terms of return, investing in early childhood education gives the most rewarding outcome. According to the Harvard Center of Child Development, the earlier the intervention of developmental delay, the more cost-effective and the less effortful it is. Timely intervention can significantly improve children’s development, and help children learn importantly life skills. Parent coaching on providing stimulating environment, pivotal response training, attachment-based relationship building, as well as tailor-made multidisciplinary intervention on motor skills, language development, cognitive and executive function training, is imperative in supporting the child to catch up from their development deviance while minimizing its negative impact on the child’s life.

Recognizing Developmental Delays in Children and When to Seek Help