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Developmental Delay: 3+ years

Dear Debi,
I am a provider for a 4-year-old girl. Her physical, emotional, and cognitive development seems to be normal, but she has a hard time when she tries to communicate with the other children. She talks “baby talk” like a 2-year-old. This frustrates her because the other children don’t understand what she is trying to say. How can I help her?
Irma, Los Angeles, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Observe and document
  • Talk with the parents
  • Guide parents to local school district
Expert Advice
Laura Gottlieb
Laura Gottlieb
Speech Language Pathologist
Children can have various types of delays: cognitive, motor, speech or language delays. A developmental delay is when a child does not meet established benchmarks in development for their age in their speech, language comprehension, motor or physical skills.

There are many different benchmarks that kids should meet for development. For example:

  • The child should be able to sustain a conversation. By the age of 5, they should be very good at this and can talk about many different types of subjects and themes.
  • The child should be able to tell easy or simple stories.
  • The child can do simple show and tell activities.
  • The child is into pre-literacy activities, such as enjoying being read to, can answer many questions when being read to, enjoys sound play (such as rhyming) and starts to make letter/sound correspondence.
  • The age of 5 is an important milestone before “school.” Kids need their oral language skills intact, plus hours of being read to. They need to be talking beyond the level of sentences and able to tell stories.

Child Care providers can get information on the internet or from resource and referral agencies about what the typical benchmarks are so that they can be familiar with children’s development. Act quickly if you suspect a delay to get the child assistance as soon as possible. Don’t wait more than 6 months or so past the benchmark.

If you suspect a developmental delay, observe and document what the child does and says. Watch the way a child answers a question when being read to. Can the child sit and be read to? Notice how the child makes his or her needs known. Do they do it verbally or by using gestures? If the child is using too much “gesturing” and not enough verbal communication, this may be a sign of a developmental delay.

After observing, it is important to speak with the parent regarding your concerns about the child. Share your observations with the parents and ask them if they have seen similar behavior at home. Try avoiding putting a label on the child, but simply state what you’ve observed. Let the parent know in a caring way that you’ve observed their child is having difficulties and that it might be a good idea to be evaluated and direct them to resources for support.

Remember that this is a sensitive topic for parents so be caring when you speak with them. It is important not to “scare” the parents but talk about prevention and ways to enhance the child’s skills so that they are good communicators and achieve academic success.

Parents of children ages 3 and older should contact their local school district and request an evaluation. The school district is required by law to conduct an evaluation. Once the evaluation is complete, they will make a recommendation of any special education or services that the child may qualify for. All of these assessments and services are completely free of charge.
Child Care provider Comments
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
A pediatrician can tell you if you should be concerned or if the child is developing at his unique pace. I also think the local regional centers and school districts are good resources to help get support and direction as to what can be done to help the child. My best advice is to be persistent if you think there’s a reason to be concerned, because if there is a delay that is not addressed when that child is in first or second grade, it’s going to be even harder for him to adjust later.
Child care provider for 4o years
When my grandson was 3 years old, I noticed that he would draw his drawings upside down and that he would put his shoes on backwards. He had an older brother who was 5 and in kindergarten at the time doing the same thing. We never contacted anyone to get my older grandson assessed and he seems to be doing fine now, three years later. My younger grandson is now in kindergarten and I’m wondering what happens next. I would like to find out more about what resources and support are available to help him.
Provider for 10 years
If you suspect a child may have a delay, start documenting what you see the child doing and saying. Then I would take that information and approach the parents about what I’ve observed by sharing my documentations with them, so that they know that I’ve been recording what I have seen. It’s also important to have information to help the parents so that you don’t leave them with a “problem” without recommendations for them on how to get help. I would make sure you have books, articles, and referrals for them to take the next step.

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Developmental Delay: 3+ years Featured Video:
Developmental Delay: 3+ years
Topic: Special Needs
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