Global Developmental Delay (GDD)

Children reach developmental milestones at their own pace, and some move faster than others. Two siblings in the same family may reach milestones at different rates. Minor, temporary delays are usually no cause for alarm, but an ongoing delay or multiple delays in reaching milestones can be a sign there may be challenges later in life. 


Signs of Global Developmental Delay (GDD)

A child with Global Developmental Delay (GDD) is considered to have significantly lower intellectual functioning than their peers. To be diagnosed under GDD, infants and preschoolers up to age five who show delays lasting at least six months must also be significantly limited in at least two developmental domains, including:

✽ Cognitive Skills

This is the ability to think, learn and solve problems. It is how kids explore the world around them with their eyes, ears, and hands. In babies, this looks like curiosity. In toddlers, it also includes things like learning to count, naming colours, and learning new words.

✽ Social & Emotional Skills

This is the ability to relate to other people. That includes being able to express and control emotions. In babies, it means smiling at others and making sounds to communicate. In toddlers and preschoolers, it means asking for help, showing and expressing feelings, and getting along with others.

✽ Speech & Language Skills

This is the ability to use and understand language. For babies, this includes cooing and babbling. In older children, it includes understanding what is said, using words correctly and in ways others can understand.

✽ Fine & Gross Motor Skills

This is the ability to use small muscles (fine motor), particularly in the hands, and large muscles (gross motor) in the body. Babies use fine motor skills to grasp objects. Toddlers and preschoolers use them to do things like hold utensils, work with objects, and draw. Babies use gross motor skills to sit up, rollover, and begin to walk. Older kids use them to do things like jump, run, and climb stairs.

✽ Daily Living Activities

This is the ability to handle everyday tasks. For children, that includes eating, dressing, and bathing themselves.


Causes of GDD

There's no one cause of GDD, but there are some risk factors to consider. They include:

✽   Complications at birth

Being born too early (prematurely); low birth weight; not getting enough oxygen at birth

✽   Environmental issues

Lead poisoning; poor nutrition; exposure to alcohol or drugs before birth; difficult family situations; trauma

✽   Other medical conditions

Chronic ear infections; vision problems; illnesses, conditions, or injuries that have a significant and long-term effect on a child's day-to-day activities


Treatment for GDD

While GDD cannot be cured, it is advised that children with a GDD diagnosis to begin psychological, educational, and social interventions to give them the best opportunity of improving their quality of life.

✽   Early Intervention

Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC) centres in Singapore implement holistic, structured teaching programmes in their curriculum for children with GDD. Activities at EIPIC centres aim to maximise the child's developmental growth potential and minimise the development of secondary disabilities. There are structured teaching programmes – TEACCH, Hanen More Than Words, Floortime, Applied Behavioural Analysis, which have improved communication, learning, and behaviour in children with GDD. 

✽   Therapy

  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is often helpful for children with delays in gross motor skills.
  • Occupational Therapy: This can address fine motor skills, sensory processing and self-help issues.
  • Speech & Language Therapy: Speech therapy is typically used to address problems in understanding and producing language and speech sounds.
  • Educational Therapy: Early childhood special education provides stimulation for early developmental skills, including play skills.
  • Behavioural Therapy: This may be needed in some children for behavioural difficulties that affect socially appropriate behaviours.

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