Differences between Developmental Delays and Learning Disabilities

Differences between Developmental Delays and Learning Disabilities

26 July 2019 Admin General Media

It is a well-known fact that all children develop at a different rate. Some may have delays in development and may require early intervention. In most children, delays in mental and physical development will improve with time. Some have significant delays, also known as developmental delays, which may indicate possible future learning disabilities.


Difference between Developmental Delays and Learning Disabilities

Developmental delays differ from other types of learning disabilities. They may improve with intervention and may eventually disappear. For this reason, it is important to be aware of early signs of a problem. Some delays and disabilities are linked to exposure to risk factors during prenatal period. Other delays may be normal for your child, and they may catch up with their peers without the need for further intervention. Developmental delays may not necessarily lead to future learning disabilities.

On the other hand, learning disabilities refer to neurological differences in processing information that severely limit a person’s ability to learn in a specific skill area. These disorders result from actual differences in the way their brain processes, understands and uses information. Often, special education programs can help people cope and compensate for these disorders.


Types of Developmental Delays

Developmental delays can be broadly categorized into delays in:

  • Cognitive Skills
  • Communication
  • Social Skills and Emotional Skills Functioning
  • Behavior
  • Fine and Gross Motor Skills



A developmental delay in any of the following areas can suggest a potential learning disability:

  • Gross Motor – Problems in large muscle movements such as standing, walking, or pulling up.
  • Fine Motor – Problems in small muscle movements such as grasping objects, moving fingers and toes.
  • Communication and Early Language – Problems in ability to understand words or to use speech.
  • Cognitive Skills – Problems in ability to think and solve problems.
  • Social/Emotional – Problems in ability to interact appropriately with others and show appropriate emotional responses.


Evaluation for Developmental Delays and Learning Disabilities

Children with developmental delays can go for special education services such as full evaluation, development of an integrated education program etc. Many schools offer screening and comprehensive assessment services to determine if your child has a developmental delay, how significant it is, and if special education is needed. You can also try to go for further testing as your child grows so that you can detect learning disabilities, if any.


Usually, learning issues are diagnosed in children who are at least 5 years or older. This is because their struggles may be hard to notice before major school activities start. Developmental delays, on the other hand, are often diagnosed much earlier at preschoolers, toddlers or even at baby stages.

For a child that has delays beyond the age of 6, it is important to get him reevaluated. This could help doctors describe the area and severity of delay. It can also help them recommend appropriate therapies for your child. Understanding your child’s strengths and needs can assist you as you create tailored plans that can help your child progress at his own speed.