12 Myths About Recognizing Developmental Delays

“But she’s the baby, of course she is walking late…..” Just one of the many myths about recognizing developmental delays that people come up with to explain why you are an over-protective mama who is setting herself up for a lifetime of helicopter parenting. Seriously, if I had a dime for every time someone told me, “There’s nothing wrong with her”, I would have a nice coffee fund to use on our sleepless nights. While most of the time nothing is wrong with our children, sometimes those little details that just don’t sit right are actually a signal that we should get checked out. If your car has a ‘check engine’ symbol come on, you get it checked out. Why would we encourage parents not to get a professional opinion (or second or third opinion) when they get a warning sign from their child?

There are so many myths around developmental delays. From the way a child should look to the way they should act, these 12 myths about recognizing developmental delays need to end.

While wives’ tales will always abound,

In some countries, it is fully believed women will become infertile if they do not wear socks every day. Like when it is 115˚F outside… As they say these things to me while I am toting four children around (and not wearing socks…)

Moms usually notice little details before other people. And when they voice their concerns, too often they are met with the wrong answers.

12 Myths About Recognizing Developmental Delays

Myth #12: “There’s nothing wrong with her, she looks fine.”

Truth: My daughter does not have purple polka dots, antennae growing out of her head or whatever you imagine she needs to look like.

Developmental delays do not always present with physical characteristics. While Down’s Syndrome, Angelman’s Syndrome and many other syndromes do have physical characteristics that make them easier to diagnose, some developmental delays do not have any distinguishing physical factors.

A child with a developmental delay may look just as “normal” as anyone else. Developmental pediatricians and geneticists know to look for specific physical characteristics that most people wouldn’t notice.

For our developmentally delayed daughter, one of those characteristics was her constant hand-rubbing.

Myth #11: “Some kids just talk late.”

Truth: People said this to us when our daughter was 3 years old and knew 5 words. I kinda want to smack them.

But I didn’t. Because that would be rude. Kind of like them.

This one is a bit difficult because, yes, some kids to do talk later than others. But we are given developmental guidelines for a reason. If you child is consistently missing developmental milestones for language development, it’s worth talking to a doctor. Getting it in the medical records early can help.

There are early intervention programs that focus on kids under the age of 3. Waiting it out may mean that your child misses out on help that they actually needed. And it makes it harder to get into programs once your child is older than 3.

Myth #10: “She’s walking late because everyone carries her.”

Truth: While some kids with older siblings might actually take advantage of having people that will carry them around, not walking by 18 months is a sign that needs to be looked into further.

In addition, paired with other delays, such as being late sitting up, rolling over, crawling (though not technically a developmental milestone), pulling up, cruising or standing independently, a late walker could be the sign of an orthopedic issue or low muscle tone. Both of which are better addressed early on.

Myth #9: “She just has separation anxiety.”

Truth: Separation anxiety usually comes in waves. There are certain ages, such as 4-7 months, when separation anxiety is more likely, but it eventually lessens.

Having a child who will not tolerate even sitting beside you and must be held constantly, is not separation anxiety. I can assure you that this becomes a very frustrating response when you have been holding a child for hours every day and you can’t leave your own home without your child having a major, lengthy meltdown.

This is definitely something to talk about with a doctor.

Myth #8: “She must be teething.”

Truth: This response to a child who has lengthy crying spells or won’t tolerate lying down in a bed, is much less than helpful.

Our daughter cried for hours every night for two years. Every.Night. We heard this a lot. Especially because she did have several dental issues.

The truth is that the crying was actually one of the key indicators that our daughter has Rett Syndrome. If we had a doctor who would have listened to us, we might have gotten a diagnosis before she was 4 years old.

Myth #7: “She’s just being lazy.”

Truth: We would take walks with our children and Shiloh would immediately start looking for a place to sit down. Or ask to be carried. A huge problem in a country where we couldn’t use our stroller everywhere.

Our 3 year wasn’t lazy. She had very low tone which meant that walking took a lot of effort and she really was tired.

Myth #6: “It’s just a stage.”

Truth: Even with a developmental delay a child goes through stages. Usually at different times depending on their mental or physical development. Saying that something a child is doing or not doing is “just a stage” doesn’t actually mean anything.

My daughter mentally is 3 years old. That means I have a 6 year old who has major tantrums, needs diapers, & loves her sippy cup. Some of those are stages. But they are still not “normal” for a 6 year old.

Myth #5: “But she’s so happy.”

Truth: I’m sorry that my child is too happy for you. Wait. Not I’m not. I’m not sorry at all.

A child does not need to be sullen to have a developmental delay. In fact, several syndromes result in children being overly friendly even to strangers. My daughter is one of the happiest people you could ever meet. That doesn’t change the fact that she has a significant developmental delay.

Myth #4: “Just remove ______ from her diet.”

Truth: I shared a fabulous Facebook post a while back about enjoying a gluten-free, peanut-free, dairy-free, meat-free, additive-free, color-free, whatever-free meal. Let me help you out….. w-a-t-e-r.

While dietary changes may help in some cases, there is no guarantee that it will benefit every child. And so many people have different opinions, different studies, different thoughts about what foods are the “bad” food.

In fact, with many children with special needs, getting them to eat a varied diet is a huge task. The thought of taking away the few foods that they do eat is enough to send a parent into a tailspin of desperation.

Myth #3: “You’re overreacting.”

Truth: Please tell me you don’t complain about silly things like how far away the nearest Starbucks is. Because that would be overreacting.

Seriously, no parent is overreacting when it comes to being concerned about their child’s development. Any concern should always be discussed with a doctor. Then the doctor can take note of the concerns and continue to watch as the child develops.

Myth #2: “My ‘normal’ child does that.”

Truth: My daughter needs to rub skin. Needs it. I’ve heard that a lot of ‘typical’ kids do that. But typical kids do not pick and rub so much that they remove moles multiple times, break skin by scratching or continue to do so after they have been asked to stop, had their hands removed or given other things to do with their hands. My daughter cannot stop. The repetitive hand motions are a part of her genetic makeup.

Yes, your ‘normal’ child may have some of the same behaviors as a child with a developmental delay or other special needs. But the severity might not be the same. A typical child may respond to discipline or guidance not to do a certain action.

Myth #1: “If you would discipline her….”

Truth: No amount of discipline is going to cause a child’s brain to connect where there are no pathways to be connected.

With Rett Syndrome, the body doesn’t actually produce enough of the chemicals to make connections between all the parts of her brain. Discipline is not going to help that.

If you are hearing these myths about your child, I encourage you to:

#1 start a coffee fund

#2 Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns

If you have said one of these things to someone, please apologize. A gift of coffee is a great place to start…

What myths have you heard about developmental delays?

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2 Comments

  1. I LOVE this! I work as an Early Interventionist in South Carolina and we hear comments such as these all the time. We often have families that we serve tell us that they kept being told the child will grow out of it…often times by their pediatricians. We have several pediatricians in our area that won’t really talk to parents about Speech concerns until they are 2 years old and by the time referrals are made and services can begin they only have a few months to receive services. I’m not sure how other states work, but in SC parents can refer their child/ren to BabyNet themselves for an evaluation to determine eligibility for services. DON’T WAIT!!! If you have your child evaluated and they are exhibiting age appropriate skills then you will have a peace of mind that nothing is wrong. If they do qualify for EI services then you will also have peace of mind that they can get the help they need and that you weren’t crazy for being concerned about your child’s development.

  2. What myths have heard about developmental delays? Enough material to write a book. I have heard of the various forms of the 12 you have mentioned and others. One that gets me fuming is “There is nothing wrong with him, you want perfection.” I am so sorry that they were not with us when he would run into walls 20 times on waking, or would try to drown himself at the deep end of the club swimming pool each time we went there, or would lay down watching the ceiling fan for hours on end. I knew there was something wrong even when he was 1 year old. Those were BIG signals. And I worked with him well before my son was diagnosed at 4, as autistic and ADHD, which was later changed to Asperger Syndrome. He is 24 now, a fully functioning adult living in US, we live in Malaysia. I can laugh at it now, but it was not funny then, and it is unkind to make statements of those kind. Cruel even. I was house bound most of the time because going out with him exhausted me in every way – mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. Perfection? I thought I looked like something the cat dragged in!