Developmental delays and therapies

Team Kindship
April 19, 2022
3 minutes

When you have been told your child has a developmental delay it will usually be one of the first diagnosis’s that they will be given as it can be determined quite early on. Although it can be quite confronting to hear it’s a blessing in a way – it means Early Intervention can start as soon as possible.

Sometimes a child may have this diagnosis with a delay in one area, such as gross motor skills. Your child may not be hitting those physical milestones such as rolling, sitting, and crawling. When there is a delay in three of more areas it can be considered as a global developmental delay. This is a delay in three of more areas, such as speech, gross motor, fine motor, and cognitive development.

As a parent you may notice that your little one isn’t quite doing what other babies and toddlers are who are around the same age, and this may raise some ‘red flags’.

Your child’s day-care teachers may be the one to address it with you.

Or a check-up with your child’s family doctor or paediatrician may be the one to introduce the words developmental delay.

However, it comes about. Knowing is better than not knowing!

Not hitting those developmental milestones are often the first sign that a child’s path may be slightly different to that of their peers. The important thing is that children have access to supports and targeted therapies to assist with their development. The early years are crucial in being able to change the direction and ensure your child can reach their full potential.

My daughter has a developmental delay, so I know first-hand the importance that therapies play. At the beginning of her journey, it wasn’t expected or guaranteed that she would reach certain milestones. But with guidance and support from therapy services she has achieved so much. We have since found an underlying genetic reason as to why she has her delays, but she is powering through and a large part of this is due to all the therapies that she has had access to.

Speech therapy

First thing that usually comes to mind when speech therapy is mentioned it speaking. But surprisingly speech therapists work on much more than that and its often they help families with feeding goals too. When a baby has difficulty with feeding it can be due to a developmental delay in that area and a speech therapy recommendation will often be likely.

Yes, speech therapy involves assistance with talking but it includes communication within all aspects. This can include both verbal and non-verbal communication and be in the form of sign language. Pointing to pictures (PECS) and eye gaze technology.

Speech therapists are well versed in a range of techniques that can support your child’s communication development, but it’s crucial to find the right fit. In my case, my child had a delay which was helped by the Hanen Method. My speech therapist picked up straight away that this was the best approach for her and within a month, she was vocalising, which then turned quite quickly into words and then sentences.

For others there may be physical limitations to speech. Some individuals with cerebral palsy (CP) who can have difficulty with both speech and movements often work better with eye gaze technology. Another avenue is sign language, this is beneficial if a child has apraxia, and they struggle with forming words.

Your speech therapist will determine the route to go down. My recommendation would be, that if your child is not progressing at all with their current therapist it could be useful to get a second opinion. Sometimes it may take a few different ones to find the ‘right fit’ for you and your child. But when you find them, its magic! I travel 45 minutes to see the speech therapist that has helped my child the most, and it’s worth every second.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapist (OT) work on ‘all the things. Initially it may be a bit confusing as to what skills your child will work on with one as they can help with so many different aspects of development.

If a child has a delay in play skills or fine motor development, they will be referred to an OT. They also work with children who have sensory issues and assist with all those crucial self-help and independence skills. Due to OT’s working with many different delays and struggles sometimes you will find some that specifically work with and target one area. So again, it’s worth checking around to find the right fit for you and your child.

Here is a breakdown of the different areas an OT can assist with.

-Play skills. Envision a giant play session. An OT working on these skills will often work on the floor method in which they get down to your child’s level and play. Children tend to love this form of therapy, why wouldn’t they – its fun! During these types of sessions an OT will often work on pretend play skills to engage your child in learning.

-Fine motor skills. All OT’s will have a wealth of knowledge in this area. These skills primarily involve your child’s hands and play a crucial role in the development of self-help skills and independence. If your child has delayed fine motor skills, they may also struggle to perform tasks like getting dressed, brushing teeth, holding a pencil ect. An occupational therapist will find strategies to work on your child’s fine motor development which in turn will assist them in making many gains with everyday tasks.

Sensory skills. While these technically aren’t a developmental delay, sensory issues can play a big aspect in other delays. Sensory struggles can be mild or severe, they involve all our senses. A child may be a sensory seeker or a sensory avoider. In some cases, noise may be a trigger and places that are noisy such as a shopping centre may cause a child great distress leading to meltdowns and behaviour challenges. In this case they don’t have a well-integrated sensory system for noise.

My child is tactile defensive, meaning she struggles with touch. She has strong aversions to different types of clothes and cannot handle getting her hair brushed or cut. She also has a lack of proprioception which is understanding her special awareness. This means she can come across as clumsy but often she is seeking input through movement, so her OT tunes into this. She will get her to partake in a lot of gross motor movement type activities such as obstacle courses, climbing ladders and crawling through small spaces.

Honestly, I don’t understand half of what her OT does but I know each activity has a purpose and I am noticing that sensory issues are becoming less of a trigger or struggle for my daughter.

Equipment. An OT often determines the type of equipment your child will need to enable them to become more inclusive in all their environments. Things like, adaptive strollers, supportive seating, wheelchairs, splints, standing frames, bathroom aides, adaptive car seats - just to name a few. We had a point in time where my daughter fatigued quite quickly when she was out and about or walking longer distances. She was too big for a regular stroller so it was our OT who organised stroller trials and determined what would be most suitable in terms of an adaptive stroller.

Physical therapy

One of the first therapies that a young child may be introduced to is physical therapy. This is because often its gross motor delays that first become evident regarding delays. A physical therapist will work with your child to achieve milestones such as rolling, sitting, crawling, and walking. It’s common for a child with developmental delays to have low muscle tone and physical therapy will assist with this.

Music therapy

One of the less traditional forms of therapies. Music therapy is a wonderful way to work an array of learning and developmental skills. Dancing and movement for gross motor skills, familiar songs for encouraging sounds and speech and it also can help with emotional regulation. This form of therapy is evidence based and a music therapist will target individualised needs through a specific therapeutic music program.


This form of therapy is done in a pool and the water is used to assist with therapy goals. It’s a form of physiotherapy where children can make great gains in a fun and engaging environment without exerting too much energy. The natural buoyancy, heat and resistance of water can have many positive effects and therapeutic benefits.


This is a wonderful therapeutic activity that involves riding horses. It’s growing popularity is due to the amazing benefits it has on many developmental areas. Pretty much its physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy all in one! The concept is that the natural rhythmic movements of the horse allow a child to adjust their body posture while they build on strength, balance, and control.  There are many physical, cognitive, and psychological benefits of hippotherapy.

While the early intervention world can seem a little overwhelming at times it is a crucial and important element in ensuring your child has the best possible start. As a parent you don’t need to have all the answers so take in the advice from your therapy supports. While it is imperative to continue to work on therapy skills at home this doesn’t have to take over and become a chore. Simply play with your child and sneakily work therapy in that way or add little snippets in throughout the day. Every single effort adds up regardless of how small. Repetitiveness is key and practice equals progress.

What works for one family may not necessarily work for yours so ensure you do what works for your family and never underestimate the power of breaks. Often our children can progress during breaks too. As it gives them an opportunity to consolidate their knowledge and put it into practice without even knowing.