Developmental Delays

Developmental delays occur when a child does not reach developmental milestones at the expected time. Developmental delays can become disabilities if they persist after a certain age. Learning disabilities often go hand in hand with developmental delays. These are usually found when children do not perform as well as their peers in classes, especially in reading, writing, and math. Individuals with developmental disabilities do not outgrow them over time. These disabilities can require a tailored intervention plan. These disabilities are related to the way that a person communicates or processes information – it does not necessarily mean that a child has a low IQ or an intellectual disability. Proper intervention strategies can help people with learning disabilities live independent and productive lives.

Developmental Delays and Disabilities

If a baby has significant trouble learning to walk, crawl or talk, this may be the manifestation of a developmental delay.  Developmental delays in children often can be observed when problems become evident with walking, talking, progressing in language or speech, or progressing with thinking skills.  Children are unique and each child develops at his or her own pace. If a baby or child’s developmental process is noticeably slower than others of the same age, it may be a warning sign of a birth injury.  Brain damage from a birth injury can occur when trauma to the head occurs or when the baby is deprived of oxygen (hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy). Sometimes these kinds of birth injuries are not noticed during infancy, but show up later in the form of developmental delays or learning disabilities.

Causes of Developmental Delays

Traumatic injuries can occur anytime during the labor and delivery process. Some events that can cause brain trauma/brain damage and resultant learning and developmental disabilities include:

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a lack of oxygen in the baby’s blood or a restricted blood supply to the brain tissue. When the baby’s delicate brain is deprived of oxygen for a period of time, the brain cells begin to die. Even a five-minute deprivation of oxygen to the baby’s brain can cause severe and permanent damage. This is why it is critical that the medical team delivering the baby be skilled in handling the problems that can arise during labor and delivery, and know how to quickly and carefully manage complications.

The following problems can arise during labor and delivery and, if mismanaged, can lead to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, developmental delays, and learning disabilities:

neonatal brain damage; fetal hypoxia; hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, HIE; birth asphyxia; neonatal encephalopathy, intrapartum asphyxia; fetal oxygen deprivation; placenta; pregnancy; placental abruption; hypovolemic blood flow

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE; birth asphyxia) can cause permanent brain damage with resultant intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD)

Neurodevelopmental Disorders Associated with Developmental Delays

Developmental delays and learning disabilities are known as neurodevelopmental disorders. These are impairments in the developmental growth of the brain and central nervous system that affect the baby or child’s ability to achieve certain milestones, including learning specific skills and tasks that other children in a similar age range can do.

Listed below are specific neurodevelopmental disorders that can be caused by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or birth trauma:

  • Developmental cognitive disability (intellectual disability): Developmental cognitive disability is a disability that occurs in childhood and is characterized by substantial limitations in intellectual function and deficits in functional life skills. Children and adults with developmental cognitive disabilities may have difficulties with communication, conceptual skills, social skills, self-care, home living, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure, and work.  Diagnosis is performed through a.) standardized testing; b.) determining an individual’s strengths and challenges in intellectual and adaptive behavior skills, psychological and emotional considerations, physical and health considerations, and environmental considerations; and c.) determining supports needed through an interdisciplinary team. Interventional strategies are delivered by providing resource supports and specific strategies to promote the development, education, interests, and personal well-being of the affected child, adolescent, or adult. A support system may be needed for the duration of the child’s life.
  • cerebral palsy; neonatal brain damage; CP; birth injury; disability; special needs

    Cerebral palsy is often caused by damage to the brain occurring around the time of birth

    Developmental motor disability (cerebral palsy). Cerebral palsy is a disorder caused by damage to the brain that occurs around the time of birth. It affects body movement and muscle coordination. Individuals with cerebral palsy also may experience seizures, abnormal speech, hearing and visual impairments, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Children with cerebral palsy may not be able to walk, talk, eat, or play in the same ways as most other children. Cerebral palsy can include milder versions or more severe symptoms which can require total dependency. Although cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, training and therapy can help improve function.

  • Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) / Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders, characterized by problems with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination of these. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADD/ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for the child’s age and development. It usually is first diagnosed in childhood and often persists into adulthood. Diagnosis can be made reliably using well-tested diagnostic interview methods. Treatment may include medical, educational, behavioral, and/or psychological interventions. ADHD is a lifelong disorder that can negatively impair many aspects of daily life if not treated, including home, school, work, and interpersonal relationships.
  • Learning disabilities. Learning disabilities are a group of neurological disorders which become evident in childhood and which are characterized by difficulty learning, sorting, and storing information. Children with learning disabilities may have one or more difficulties with skills such as listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities that interfere with academic performance, achievement and, in some cases, activities of daily living. Often these disabilities are not identified until a child reaches school age. Performance on standardized tests usually is found to be below that expected for age, schooling, and level of intelligence. Some children find learning in a regular classroom difficult and special classes may be recommended to help them receive more specific and intensive teaching. Learning disabilities are lifelong, but with proper intervention, training, and strategies, individuals with these disabilities can lead successful, fully functioning lives.
  • Microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition in which an infant or child’s head is much smaller than normal. It is abnormal development of the skull due to a lack of growth in the brain from significant brain damage. Many times, it results from a traumatic birth such as an improper forceps or vacuum extractor birth. Or the microcephaly can be attributed to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy from medical mismanagement of the events listed above.  A child with microcephaly generally has less than normal brain function and is likely to experience developmental delays as well as intellectual and developmental disabilities, impaired motor function, seizures, hyperactivity, or small body size. Currently, there is no cure for microcephaly, but there is supportive treatment to help the child better cope with the condition.

Milestones for Developmental Delays

Developmental delays are diagnosed when a child does not reach his or her developmental milestones around the expected time. Developmental milestones are sets of skills a child should be able to do at a certain age.  During the first month of life, babies should be meeting certain milestones.

Developmental Milestones: 1 Month of Age

  • Ability to turn the head when lying face-down
  • Ability to close the hand into a fist
  • Jerking arm movements
  • The head flops back if it’s unsupported
  • Fully developed hearing
  • Preference for black and white patterns
  • Preference for looking at human faces
  • Recognition of certain sounds
  • Turning of the head towards familiar noises
  • The eyes wander, cross and focus
  • Preference for sweet smells
  • Preference for soft fabrics
  • Can smell the mother’s breast milk

Signs of Developmental Delays at 1 Month of Age

  • Unable to feed properly
  • Unable to respond to loud sounds
  • Unable to focus and follow with the eyes
  • Stiff or floppy limbs
  • Constant trembling of the lower jaw

Developmental Milestones: 3 Months of Age

  • Opens and shuts hand
  • Shakes hand toys
  • When on stomach they can lift their head and support their upper body
  • Smiles at the sound of a parent’s voice
  • Babbles
  • Starts using hands with eyes
  • Socially smiles
  • Enjoys playing with others

Signs of Developmental Delays at 3 Months of Age

  • Does not smile in response to parent’s voice
  • Does not smile at people
  • Cannot support the head easily
  • Failure to respond to loud sounds
  • Inability to push down with the legs when they’re on a hard surface

Developmental Milestones: 7 Months of Age

  • Ability to roll both ways
  • Ability to support weight on the legs
  • Ability to reach with one hand
  • Responds to own name
  • Explores with the hands and mouth
  • Can tell emotion by the tone of a voice
  • Responds to “no”
  • Enjoys playing with others

Signs of Developmental Delays at 7 Months of Age

  • Very stiff or floppy body
  • Shows no affection
  • Does not respond to sounds
  • Does not laugh or squeal
  • Does not babble
  • Does not seem to enjoy being around others

Developmental Milestones: 1 Year of Age

  • Sits without assistance
  • Crawls and tries to walk
  • Pulls self up to stand
  • Puts objects in and takes them out of containers
  • Uses index finger to point
  • Tries to scribble
  • Responds to words such as “no”
  • Says simple words such as “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Uh-oh”
  • Can find hidden objects
  • Shyness around strangers; distress and crying when when parents leave

Signs of Developmental Delays: 1 Year of Age

  • Does not crawl
  • Does not say single words
  • Cannot stand
  • Does not learn to point or use gestures

Developmental Milestones: 2 Years of Age

  • Can walk independently
  • Can carry a toy, walk and run
  • Can start to run
  • Can kick a ball
  • Can scribble
  • Recognizes names, faces, objects and body parts
  • Starts forming sentences
  • Follows instructions
  • Can sort shapes and colors

Signs of Developmental Delays: 2 Years of Age

  • Cannot walk
  • Does not form sentences
  • Does not follow instructions
  • Does not know the function of ordinary household items

Developmental Milestones: 3-4 Years of Age

  • Can hop and stand on one foot
  • Can kick, catch and throw a ball
  • Can move up and down a set of stairs
  • Can move forward and backward easily
  • Can draw shapes
  • Tells stories
  • Understands the concept that some things are the same and others are different
  • Has a sense of time
  • Starts to count
  • Plays and cooperates with other children
  • Becomes more independent

Signs of Developmental Delays: 3-4 Years of Age

  • Cannot throw a ball
  • Cannot jump in place
  • Cannot draw
  • Ignores other children
  • Does not use sentences with more than three words
  • Does not want to dress themselves or use the toilet

Developmental Milestones: 4-5 Years of Age

  • Can stand on one foot
  • Can skip, hop, swing and do somersaults
  • Can draw a person with a body
  • Can print letters of the alphabet
  • Speaks in sentences over five words and uses past and future tense
  • Can remember name and address
  • Can count
  • Increasingly exhibits independence
  • Follows rules
  • Wants to be similar to friends

Signs of Developmental Delays: 4-5 Years of Age

  • Excessive aggression
  • Excessive fear or timidity
  • No interest in playing with other children
  • Difficulty eating, sleeping and/or using the toilet
  • Exhibits hygienic problems, such as washing hands and brushing teeth
  • Cannot understand two part commands such as, “Pick up the plate on the table.”

Between ages 6 and 12, children generally are more independent. Rapid change occurs physically, emotionally, socially, mentally and morally. Mood swings are common as children go through puberty. Parents can help children with their development during this time by exhibiting patience, asking questions and helping with problem-solving skills. Read signs and be aware of their social situations. Giving constant advice and lots of positive attention help children to navigate their future.

Learning & Developmental Delays Caused by Medical Malpractice: Help from Lawyers

If you are seeking the help of a birth injury lawyer, it is very important to choose a lawyer and firm that focus solely on birth injury cases. Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers is a national birth injury law firm that has been helping children with birth injuries since its inception in 1997.

If your child was diagnosed as having developmental delays, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) or any other birth injury, the award-winning lawyers at ABC Law Centers can help. We have helped children throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong treatment, therapy, and a secure future, and we give personal attention to each child and family we represent. From our home base in Detroit, Michigan, our team handles cases all over the country. We’ve helped families affected by birth trauma in states such as Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, Texas, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Arkansas, and other parts of the country.

To begin your free case review, all you have to do is contact our office. Feel free to reach out to our birth injury team in whichever way best suits your needs:

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Video: Developmental Delay Lawyers Discuss Birth Asphyxia (HIE) and Birth Injuries 


In this video, developmental delay lawyers Jesse Reiter and Rebecca Walsh discuss how birth asphyxia can cause learning disabilities and developmental delays.


  • C.M.T. Robertson, N.N. Finer, M.G.A. Grace. School performance of survivors of neonatal encephalopathy associated with birth asphyxia at term. The Journal of Pediatrics. 1989; 114(5) 753-760.
  • Kerstjens JM, Bocca-Tjeertes IF, deWinter AF, Reijneveld SA, Boss AF. Neonatal Morbidities and Developmental delay in Moderately Preterm-Born Children. Pediatrics. 2012; 130(2) 265-272.
  • Pin TW, Eldridge B, Galea MP. A review of developmental outcomes of term infants with post-asphyxia neonatal encephalopathy. European journal of paediatric neurology. 2009; 13(3) 224-234.

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