Developmental Delays in the Classroom

Children develop at their own pace, and what is considered "normal" has a wide range. Sosha might begin walking shortly after her first birthday, but might not speak a three word sentence until age three. Caleb might be a chatterbox at age two, but isn't toilet-trained at age four. If it appears that there is a significant delay in vision, motor skills, cognitive skills, speech, or social skills, early treatment is the best way to help a child make progress and be ready to enter school.

If a parent or physician suspects a 3 or 4 year old may have developmental delays, a referral should be made to the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE). The CPSE will conduct an evaluation which will check the child's cognitive, motor, social, physical, and speech levels. Once the evaluation has been completed the CPSE will review and discuss the evaluation. If there are significant lags in emotional, mental or physical growth, a recommendation will be made to identify the child as a "Preschooler with a Disability". The committee would then devise an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) to address the delays.

As the child approaches his fifth birthday, the CPSE can refer the child to the Committee on Special Education (CSE) which provides services for 5-21 year olds. The CSE then becomes responsible for the IEP and evaluating needs at least once a year. If a child hasn't been identified under the CPSE, a pre-referral can be made anytime once the child enters school.

A child with developmental delays should be included in the general education setting to whatever level is appropriate. As the CSE meets to write the IEP for young children, the following strategies should be considered:


- provide consistency with classroom rules and consequences

- utilize a behavior rubric to encourage appropriate behavior

- prepare the child in advance for changes in routine (i.e. an assembly, a field trip)

- provide individual or group counseling sessions

- utilize peer modeling/role playing

- provide positive reinforcement (i.e. verbal, stickers, chart)


- provide a peer mentor--an older student who can read with the child

- simplify information on worksheets

- place the child near the front of the class to help him stay focused

- provide hands on activities

- repeat directions

- utilize a picture cue card on the child's desk showing his schedule


- determine the need for Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), Adaptive Physical Education (APE)

- determine the need for speech services.

- demonstrate expected outcomes

- revise lesson plans to include several opportunities to demonstrate the expected outcome

- determine the need for vision therapy

- access the need for assistive technology or other forms of assistance

Many children with emotional, mental and/or physical developmental delays, can experience much success at school. When provided with early treatment, good progress is usually made and sometimes a child no longer shows a lag. It's important to discover strategies that work well with the child and to use these strategies consistently.

More Information On Developmental Delays

  1. Developmental Delay Resources
  2. Center for Early Education
  3. Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders
  4. National Association of Developmental Disabilities Councils