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The Difference Between Developmental Delays and Autism

The Difference Between Developmental Delays and Autism

Waving hello, taking a first step, learning to play with others — these are developmental milestones that you look for in children. When a child doesn’t reach milestones by a certain time, there are many different possibilities that may be causing the issue, with developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder heading the list.

While there’s considerable crossover between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delays, these are very separate diagnoses. 

To help you understand these disorders better, including the commonalities and the key differences, our team of pediatric neurology experts here at Complete Neurological Care take a brief look below.

Understanding milestones

Whether a child has a developmental delay or ASD, keys to diagnosing either of these issues is identifying whether the child is having trouble meeting certain milestones. While all children develop at their own rate, we use loose guidelines to help us monitor and track a child’s growth and development.

There are four different categories of developmental milestones:

For a complete picture of what we look for in each of these categories and when we look for them, click here.

Developmental delays

At its core, a developmental delay is just that — a delay in reaching a certain milestone. Developmental delays can present themselves for a wide range of reasons, such as:

In many cases, the reason for the developmental delay is never known and is long forgotten once the child receives help and catches up with their peers.

For example, many kids who are born prematurely lag behind in developmental milestones, but most do catch up with a little extra effort. Or a child with a speech disorder that led to a language delay can receive therapy and learn to communicate more easily.

Many kids might be delayed in reaching a certain milestone because they favor another — they’re more physically adept, but very shy, for example — but the two end up balancing out as they grow older. 

With most developmental delays, children can move past them with a little help or a little time.

Autism spectrum disorder goes beyond a developmental delay

The reason autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder is that it encompasses a group of conditions that include issues with one or more of the following:

ASD affects about 1 in 100 kids around the world, and the neurological condition can range from mild to severe. 

One of the reasons ASD is different from a developmental disorder is that a child can develop on schedule for a time and then stall and start to regress. Or a child with ASD isn’t necessarily delayed, but, rather, they communicate or act differently than others.

Unlike a developmental delay, ASD is a lifelong condition, but with the right treatment early on, children can learn to function well within the confines of their condition.

If you suspect that your child may be having difficulty with certain developmental milestones, the best way to figure out what may be behind the issue is to come see us for an evaluation. To get started, contact one of our offices in Boynton Beach, Boca Raton, or Margate, Florida, to schedule an appointment.

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