Developmental delay and intellectual disability

What is developmental delay? What is intellectual disability?

The term developmental delay describes when a child is slower to reach developmental milestones than other children, such as in the way they move, communicate, think and learn or through their behaviour and interaction with other children. There can be any number of reasons for this and professionals only use the term 'developmental delay' until the cause of the delay is identified. Developmental milestones are the physical and behavioural signs of development in infants and children. Rolling over, sitting, walking and talking are all considered milestones in normal development.

Developmental delay can be temporary or permanent — persistent developmental delays are also called developmental disabilities and can be signs of more serious conditions such as cerebral palsy or developmental disorders that include autism, intellectual disability and hearing impairment

Children develop a wide range of skills in their early years of life. This includes the development of speech and language, motor skills, self help, play and problem solving. All children with developmental delay still have the potential to learn and develop. There are many services that can provide assessment and support children with developmental delay. There are many things that can affect how a child develops. Some occur during pregnancy and around the time of birth, others occur after the child is born. Medical conditions that may be associated with development delay include prematurity, inherited disorders, chronic illness (including epilepsy), infections, problems with hearing and vision.

How do we help children who have a developmental delay, an intellectual disability or a learning disorder?

The Sydney Children's Hospital Network provides services for a range of conditions and disorders in its child development service. The health professionals in our Network diagnose and treat:

  • All ranges of developmental delay and intellectual disability
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Severe complex specific learning disorders
  • Acquired developmental disorders
  • Developmental disorders associated with medical, sensory or genetic conditions

The Children’s Hospital at Westmead Child Development Services (CDS) comprises the Child Development Unit (CDU) based at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, the Parramatta Early Childhood Assessment Team (PECAT) (based in Parramatta), the Disability Specialist Unit (DSU) (based in Burwood), the NSW Centre for Effective Reading (CER) (based at Westmead) and the Specialist Disability Health Team (SDHT) — Fairfield (based in Fairfield). The Child Development Unit provides a state-wide service and these services include comprehensive developmental/medical and psychometric assessment, diagnosis, management advice and coordination of intervention as required with the objective being to transfer care back to the community.

The Tumbatin Clinic at Sydney Children’s Hospital provides an evidence-based service for children with suspected or proven developmental disorders through childhood and adolescence. The clinic aims to provide an integrated service ranging from screening in collaboration with Community Child Health through assessment with developmental paediatrician input to formal tertiary and quaternary multidisciplinary assessment.

Both the CDS and the Tumbatin Clinic provide a range of educational and training services, both internally and to external bodies, and undertake a large number of research projects.