Developmental Delay


It is important to implement strategies that address the needs of the individual. We recommend that you apply these strategies across home, school, and community contexts.

Physical Development
Plan physical activities for times when the student has the most energy.
Provide simple, fun obstacle courses that the student is capable of completing.
Provide daily opportunities and activities for children to use handheld tools and objects.
Use songs with finger plays to develop fine motor skills.
Use materials such as a non-slip mat under drawing paper, thick crayons, and thick handled paint brushes that are easy to grasp.
Incorporate singing and dancing into many activities.
Place objects in student’s hand to hold and feel.
Let students practice swinging and hitting.
When eating, let student make a mess to practice the motions of feeding and cleaning up.
Give students blocks, clay, paper, pencils, crayons, safety scissors, play dough, and manipulatives to use.
Plan daily physical activities, and take students outside to run, climb and jump around.
Have students practice buttoning and unbuttoning, zipping clothes, and opening and closing a door.
Use activities that involve cutting, pasting, drawing and writing.
Model and use activities with drawing and writing tools.
Use child-size tables and chairs in the classroom.
Have a schedule for active and quiet times.
Model and talk about healthy eating habits with students.
Provide nutritious snacks and meals.
Make parents aware of health concerns that could affect a child’s development (changes in growth, hearing, vision).
Provide parents with information about health, medical, and dental resources.
Use visual discrimination games such as “I spy”.
Take “listening walks.”

Cognitive Development (intellectual abilities)
Use the student’s preferences and interests to build lessons (get input from parents).
Allow student time to complete tasks and practice skills at own pace.
Acknowledge level of achievement by being specific.
Be specific when giving praise and feedback.
Break down tasks into smaller steps.
Demonstrate steps, and then have student repeat the steps, one at a time.
Be as concrete as possible.
Demonstrate what you mean rather than giving directions verbally.
Show a picture when presenting new information verbally.
Provide hands-on materials and experiences.
Share information about how things work.
Pair student with a buddy who can assist with keeping the student on track.
Be consistent with classroom routines.
Set a routine so student knows what to expect.
Provide a visual schedule of activities that can be understood by the student (using photos, icons).
Use a visual timer so student knows when an activity will be over and they can transition to the next task.
Use age appropriate materials.
Use short and simple sentences to ensure understanding.
Repeat instructions or directions frequently.
Ask student if further clarification is necessary.
Keep distractions and transitions to a minimum.
Teach specific skills whenever necessary.
Provide an encouraging and supportive learning environment.
Do not overwhelm a student with multiple or complex instructions.
Speak more slowly and leave pauses for student to process your words.
Speak directly to the student.
Speak in clear short sentences.
Ask one question at a time and provide adequate time for student to reply.

Communication Development (speech and language)
Use large clear pictures to reinforce what you are saying.
Speak slowly and deliberately.
Paraphrase back what the student has said.
Clarify types of communication methods the student may use.
Identify and establish functional communication systems for students who are non-verbal.
Reinforce communication attempts (e.g. their gestures, partial verbalizations) when the student is non-verbal or emerging verbal.
Label areas in the room with words and pictures.
Use sequencing cards to teach order of events.
Provide puppets/pictures as props when using finger plays and songs.
Develop a procedure for the student to ask for help.
Speak directly to the student.
Be a good speech model.
Have easy and good interactive communication in classroom.
Consult a speech language pathologist concerning your class.
Be aware that students may require another form of communication.
Encourage participation in classroom activities and discussions.
Model acceptance and understanding in classroom.
Provide assistance and positive reinforcement as the student shows the ability to do something with increased independence.
Use gestures that support understanding.
Model correct speech patterns and avoid correcting speech difficulties.
Be patient when student is speaking, since rushing may result in frustration.
Focus on interactive communication.
Use active listening.
Incorporates the student’s interests into speech.
Use storybook sharing in which a story is read to student and responses are elicited (praise is given for appropriate comments about the content).

Social and Emotional Development
Use strategies to assist student in separating from parent.
Set a routine in saying goodbye (such as finding a book to read).
Value and acknowledge student’s efforts.
Provide opportunities for students to play in proximity to one another.
Provide opportunities for students to interact directly with each other.
Work to expand the child’s repertoire of socially mediated reinforcers (e.g. tickling, peek-a-boo, chase, etc.).
Explore feelings through use of play.
Teach students to express their feelings in age-appropriate ways.
Provide play activities that don’t require sharing such as art projects, making music (students have own instrument), and sand or water play.
Ask students to imagine how their behavior might affect others.
Have students make a “friend book” with students from the class.
Comment on and describe what student is doing (be specific).
When dealing with conflict, explain what happened in as few words as possible and use a calm, not-angry voice.
Point out consequences of the student’s behavior.
Brainstorm better choice(s) with students.
Use language to describe feelings and experiences.
Put student’s feelings into words.
Read books about feelings.
Explain your reasons for limits and rules in language that students can understand.
Model the benefits involved in cooperating.
Use natural consequences when possible to reinforce cause and effect involved in a rule, request, or limit.
Teach students words for important people and things.

Adaptive Behavior (everyday skills for functioning)
Explicitly teach life skills related to daily living and self-care.
Break down each skill into steps.
Use visual schedules with pictures / icons to demonstrate each step.
Plan experiences that are relevant to the child’s world.
Find ways to apply skills to other settings (field trips).
Minimize distractions and the possibility for over-stimulation.
Teach and model personal hygiene habits such as washing hands, covering mouth and nosewhen sneezing or coughing, and dental care.
Find ways to practice personal care and self-help skills (using centers in the classroom).
Provide opportunities for students to practice asking for help, feeding themselves, dressing, washing hands, toileting, and locating personal items.
Provide materials that support self care such as child-size sink, toilet, coat rack, and toothbrushes.
Teach and model rules and practices for bus safety, playground safety, staying with the group, and safety in the classroom.
Teach students to provide personal identification information when asked.
Teach and model procedures for dealing with potentially dangerous situations, including fire, severe weather, and stranger

About developmental delay
Young children with developmental delay (or global developmental delay/intellectual disability) experience delays in thinking and everyday skills. They may have delays in several areas such as their motor, language and social skills. They find it harder to learn, which means they need extra time and help to learn new skills. They may find instructions with several steps hard to follow. They can find it challenging to manage their emotions and behaviour. Young children will vary considerably in their development. Some children will seem to show delays but then ‘catch up’, and early intervention can often result in improvement in thinking and everyday skills.

What might be some strengths?
Many children with developmental delay enjoy play and learning through play.
Children may show lots of interest in activities that involve play.
They may have good fine and gross motor skill development through play.

Where might you provide support?
Children with developmental delay may have trouble with how quickly they can think and their ability to understand. They might not understand instructions if they are given a lot of information at once.
They may take longer to learn new skills. Structure and routine may help them.
They can be very social and friendly, and like talking and spending time with other people. However, sometimes, they might stand too close or be overfamiliar with people.

Evidence-based strategies
Consider adjustments to communication style
Get child’s attention before communicating. When giving instructions or talking with children check that you have their full attention before beginning. This can be done out loud or with a gesture.

Work collaboratively
Be clear and specific. It can be helpful to give clear and specific instructions about the task and the behaviour expected.

Integrate learning with fun
Use visual instructions. Visual instructions about a task or behavior may be needed for some children. Consider demonstrating the task or asking another child to demonstrate. You can also use a visual schedule, poster or video to outline or model the task.

Provide positive feedback
Some children may find it easier if they can use gestures. Some children may need to point to an answer instead of talking.

Best practice tips
Have a consistent routine
Routines help a child understand how to behave. Children often feel more secure when they know what to expect.  

Provide a supportive environment

Reduce background noise when giving instructions

Simplify instructions

Break skills into smaller parts

Ask parents how to help

Early Years Learning and Development Outcomes
Outcome 1: Children have a strong sense of identity
Early childhood educators can teach children to treat others with care, empathy and respect. Consider playing games where children work in pairs or small groups to practice a social skill such as asking or offering to share and asking for or offering help.
Respond to children in a warm and positive way. For example, you could ask them to help you with activities. This creates a safe and secure environment for children.

Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world

Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing

Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners

Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators

Other considerations
First aid
Some children with developmental delay may have difficulty communicating that they are in pain or unwell. Watch for signs of pain such as grimacing. Encourage gestures or other methods of communication to work out what may be happening.

Safety drills




Peer mediation

Other co-occurring conditions