Understanding Global Developmental Delay (GDD)

Children and babies generally acquire essential skills like sitting up, rolling over, crawling, and an understanding of when to pee or poop.

These skills are referred to as developmental milestones.

These occur accordingly in an expected order. They also occur at a fairly predictable age. Whereas most children reach these stages at completely different times, some children with development delay might not reach one or more of these millstones at the expected age.

It might be much later than normal.

What is Global Developmental Delay

Global Developmental Delay can be defined as a general term used to describe a condition whereby a child has not reached two or more developmental milestones in all areas of development during the developmental period of life (birth to age 18).

These areas of development include:

  • Motor skills; either total motor skills like sitting up or rolling over, using the hand and fingers like picking up small objects.
  • Speech and language; these include babbling imitating speech, identifying sound by either turning to the direction where the sound was made or by trying to repeat what was said and as well as trying to understand what was spoken.

  • Cognitive skills; ability to learn new information, process them, organise and remember them.
  • Social and emotional skills; interacting with others and development of individual traits and feelings, and beginning to understand the needs and feelings of others as well.

As a guide, it is expected that by 6 months, babies will:

  • Cry whenever they are not comfortable or hungry and make other sounds, turn their head to the direction of sounds, watch the person’s face feeding them and smile at known faces and voices.

Between 6 months to 1 year, babies should able to:

  • be sitting alone without support, rolling over from their tummy to their back, start crawling or shuffle on their bottom, show affection to known faces and repeat some sounds or words.

Between 1 to 2 years, children should:

  • start walking, feed themselves, push and pull toys and make noises to indicate wants.

Between 2 to 3 years, children should be able to:

  • hold a pen or pencil, pour from a jug, use the toilet with help, learn to ride a tricycle and know the names of familiar people.

A child can have developmental delay in all or most of the areas listed above, when this occurs, it becomes Global Developmental delay.

Causes of Global Developmental Delay

  1. Complications during pregnancy and birth: these complications include having a preterm baby, infection of the mother during pregnancy, exposure to drugs and alcohol by mother during pregnancy and trauma during childbirth.
  2. Genetic factors: these include Williams’s syndrome, prader-willi and Down syndrome, which result from problems with the child’s genes or chromosomes.
  3. Environmental factors: these include child neglect or abuse which might lead to brain injury, brain trauma, toxins in the environment.
  4. Pervasive developmental disorder: these are delays in development caused by a group of psychological disorders- Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Childhood disintegrative disorder and Rett’s syndrome.

The common signs of Global Developmental delay include; delayed acquisition of milestones difficulty in thinking and understanding, partial or total motor difficulties, poor social skills, aggressive behaviour and problems with communication.


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To determine whether the child has inherited disorders, Genetic testing is done. If this cannot prove the cause of the disorder, blood and urine test will be conducted, to determine the presence and level of lead in the body or thyroid dysfunction.

Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scan is carried out to determine damage to structures within the central nervous system.

An electroencephalogram can also be done to note seizure disorders. The paediatrician only recommend treatment after seeing the result of the tests carried out. There is no general treatment for this disorder but specific management for the cause of the delay.

Children with this disorder are regarded as kids with special needs therefore, parents have a vital role to play, allowing the child more time to learn, teaching the child special skills, having a total focus on the child and being there all the times for the child, will help in improving the child.