5 Most Common Developmental Problems

Is your child behind in acquiring age-appropriate skills and milestones? Perhaps they have one of the most common developmental problems.
5 Most Common Developmental Problems
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 05 September, 2023

Each child follows their own rhythm. The time to say first words, start walking, or learn to count varies from child to child, and it’s not a good idea to force these milestones to happen earlier than they should. However, when a child falls far behind or fails to reach these milestones, it’s worth considering the possibility that they’re suffering from any of the most common developmental problems.

These include a set of physical, cognitive, or social problems that hinder or make it difficult for the child to perform well on a daily basis. These conditions may be congenital or present during early childhood. They often last throughout life.

Knowing which are the most common ones will help you to detect them early and offer your child the necessary support.

What are developmental problems?

As we said, we’re talking about a set of physical, mental, or emotional disorders that can affect different areas such as learning, motor skills, behavior, or communication.

In short, they’re a limitation when it comes to leading an independent life, although as they’re such a heterogeneous group of conditions, the impairment can vary from mild to severe.

At the moment, there’s no clear conclusion as to the underlying causes of developmental disabilities. As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s assumed to be a genetic component, but the environment and conditions of growth and upbringing also make an important contribution.

Overall, it’s estimated that this set of medical conditions affects approximately 17% of children and adolescents. In addition, they’re often associated with a series of physical or psychological problems, especially in those cases in which the person doesn’t receive the appropriate diagnosis and intervention.

How to detect them?

Although it should be a health professional who performs the relevant assessment to reach a diagnosis, there are some signs that we can look for at home to identify whether a child may suffer from a developmental problem.

First, we should focus on developmental milestones, a series of skills and competencies that children usually acquire according to their stage of development. If we notice a delay with regard to other children their age, this should alert us.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention share a list of the most relevant developmental milestones to look for. This includes some of the following.

  • At 2 months: The baby smiles when spoken to, reacts to loud sounds, and holds their head upright when on their tummy.
  • At 4 months: The baby tries to get your attention with looks or sounds, looks at their hands with interest, and holds their head steady when held.
  • At 6 months: Likes to look in the mirror, squeaks, and is able to roll over while lying down.
  • At 9 months: Looks when you call their name, looks for objects when they go out of sight, and sits without support.
  • At 1 year of age: Calls for mommy or daddy, looks for objects when they’re hidden from them, and walks by holding onto furniture.
  • By 18 months: Points to show you something interesting, copies or imitates you in simple tasks, and can feed themself using their fingers.
  • By 2 years: Notices when others are sad or upset, says at least two words together, and can eat with a spoon.

Major developmental problems in children

Among developmental problems, we find a multitude of diagnoses ranging from motor disorders to learning difficulties and neurodevelopmental disturbances. However, some of the most common are as follows.

1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

This is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social communication, sensory processing, and behavioral patterns. Children with ASD may have difficulty understanding nonverbal and figurative language, empathy problems, hypersensitivity, and poor tolerance for change.

2. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is characterized by attentional difficulties, lack of control, impulsivity, agitation, and motor restlessness. These children have trouble staying focused, following directions, or performing quiet activities, among other challenges and difficulties.

3. Intellectual disability

Intellectual disability means that the person has an IQ that’s significantly lower than average. In these cases, general skills may be greatly reduced and there are significant learning disabilities and limited autonomy.

Although it can occur in isolation, it’s also part of broader diagnoses such as Down Syndrome.

4. Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy causes problems with movement, balance, and posture. It can cause stiff muscles, difficulty walking or sitting, clumsiness, and impaired coordination. Most cases are congenital, but some are also due to brain disease or injury.

5. Hearing loss

In this case, the developmental problem has a physical origin related to sensory impairment. These children may have difficulty developing language, socializing, and learning to read and write. This impairs their school performance and causes emotional difficulties associated with frustration and isolation.

How to explain to a child that they have a developmental problem

As we said, the impairment varies from mild to severe depending on the case and influences different areas and skills. However, these children may have significant difficulties in acquiring various skills, functioning autonomously, and establishing healthy relationships.

These limitations can cause anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, and behavioral problems.

Therefore, it’s important to support them and help them understand what’s happening. Talking to them about their diagnosis from an early age and explaining what it entails helps them to reduce the feeling of being inadequate or invalid. However, this label shouldn’t be presented as a conditioning factor.

On the contrary, it’s important to emphasize their abilities, possibilities, and capacity to learn, even if it’s in a different way.

Final recommendations

Although developmental problems often last a lifetime, good intervention makes a difference. With the necessary support, these children can improve many of their skills, acquire important knowledge, and learn to lead a more autonomous and satisfactory life.

For this, it’s important to offer them therapies according to each case and adapted educational environments and for families to be aware and committed to the work. By facilitating their learning and promoting their talents and interests, their quality of life will increase significantly and their developmental problems will be more bearable.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.