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Global Developmental Delay: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

May 01st, 2023 | by Sarah Fahy

Sarah Fahy

May 01st, 2023

What is Global Developmental Delay (GDD)? 

Global developmental delay (GDD) is a condition in which a child does not reach developmental milestones at the expected times. It is defined as a significant delay in two or more developmental domains (for example, gross or fine motor skills, speech and language, cognitive abilities, or social skills). Sometimes the terms ‘developmental delay’ and ‘global developmental delay’ are used interchangeably.

How Common is Global Developmental Delay?

The prevalence of global developmental delay can vary depending on the population being studied and the criteria used for diagnosis. It is estimated that GDD affects between 1% to 3% of children worldwide.

What is the Cause of Global Developmental Delay?

The cause of global developmental delay can vary and may not always be easily identified. Some potential causes include genetic factors, prenatal exposure to substances like alcohol or drugs, complications during pregnancy or childbirth, brain injury, infections, or medical conditions like Down syndrome or autism spectrum disorder. Because GDD is a general term and not a specific diagnosis, an exact cause of the delay will be specific to the child.

Global Developmental Delay Symptoms

The symptoms and severity of global developmental delay can vary widely depending on the individual child. It’s important to note that each child with global developmental delay is unique, and the symptoms and severity can vary greatly.

Here are some common characteristics and symptoms typically associated with global developmental delay:

  • Delays in reaching developmental milestones
  • Delays in motor skills (including crawling and walking)
  • Motor coordination difficulties
  • Challenges with communication, including speech delays or limited vocabulary
  • Social and emotional delays, such as difficulty relating to peers and forming relationships
  • Behavioural issues, such as hyperactivity or impulsivity
  • Possible sensory processing issues
  • Difficulty with learning and academic performance
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills
  • Difficulty with problem-solving

A child with developmental delay may need extra help with daily activities compared to children of the same age, such as talking, walking, or dressing themselves.

What Are Some Treatment Options for Global Developmental Delay?

Global developmental delay (GDD) can vary greatly from one individual to another, so treatment options will depend on the specific needs and challenges of each person. Early intervention and individualised support can help children with global developmental delay reach their full potential. If your child has a suspected or confirmed developmental delay diagnosis, treatments that can help with GDD include:

  • Speech Therapy: Speech therapists can help children learn to use language to express their needs by emphasizing articulation, vocabulary, or other forms of communication. Speech therapy can help individuals with GDD improve their communication skills, including language development and social communication.
  • Physiotherapy can help address any motor delays or impairments in coordination, balance, and physical strength.· Physiotherapists can help a child to develop by supporting them to catch up on motor delays through targeted exercises.
  • Occupational therapy can help individuals with GDD build skills for daily living activities, including self-care tasks like dressing, eating, and bathing. Occupational therapists help with supporting the development of gross and fine motor skills, motor planning and independence.
  • Special Education: Preschool and kindergarten programs can offer individual special education to help meet a child’s specific needs when the child exhibits developmental delays.

About the Authors

Sarah is an occupational therapist at NAPA Centre Syndey who has been passionate about working with children for as long as she can remember. She chose to study occupational therapy to follow this passion! When she is not at work, Sarah loves being outside, swimming in the ocean, finding all the best restaurants Sydney has to offer and spending time with her friends.

Eabha (pronounced Ava) is an occupational therapist at NAPA Centre Syndey. Known for her enthusiasm, Eabha is passionate about making therapy sessions enjoyable for children. In addition to her professional pursuits, Eabha enjoys exploring and immersing herself in the vibrant city of Sydney. Eabha can be found unwinding by taking long walks along the beach, listening to engaging podcasts, and practising yoga.

About NAPA Centre 

NAPA paediatric therapists address areas of Global Developmental Delay through physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Learn more.

NAPA specialises in working with children with physical and neurological delays. In addition to working with children with more common diagnoses such as cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, NAPA has a special interest and expertise with children with rare, multiple and complex conditions. NAPA Centre’s Intensive Model of Therapy (IMOT) is world-renowned, and one of the leading clinics in Australia for paediatric therapy programs with a large multi-discliplinary team of Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and Speech Therapists all working together. Families routinely travel from all parts of Sydney, the NSW region, from across Australia and even from the Australasian region to access NAPA’s unique and effective programs for their children.

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