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Developmental Delays in the Primary Classroom


The developmental tasks in the life of an individual define a set of basic cognition, communication, social and motor skills according to the physiological age of the child. These help in understanding the growth of children. Schools frame the learning objectives for children on the basis of tasks and abilities acquired during the specific age group. While there is no fixed yardstick for measuring human behaviour, a significant gap or delay in this development pattern can occur leading to difficulty in school years. It is therefore important for all associated with children and learning to have a fair understanding of various kinds of developmental delays and the problems it can cause if left unaddressed, how to identify these signs and how to handle children presenting these issues.


The preschool stage (2.5 to 5 years) is the earliest phase when many of the learning difficulties are easily spotted. The most commonly observed delays during this phase are:

  • Social difficulties – like not mixing with other children, remaining aloof, preferring to sit in a corner of the classroom

  • Not responding to their names - as in a roll call or conversation

  • Inability to maintain eye contact – during conversations

  • Sensory issues – are often mistaken as aggressive behaviour like biting, pushing, hitting or hyperactivity.

A child who does not like physical proximity may resort to pushing merely to defend oneself from other’s contact- may be seen as aggressiveness. Other sensory-related problems include extreme sensitivity to loud sound, avoidance of messy activities related to tactile sense like clay work, sand /water play. Sometimes a child is not able to relate in large open spaces and may show resistance or fear in running, playing on slides or swings.


As the child advances to the early primary stage (5 to 7 years), developmental delays become more noticeable during simple learning tasks like

  • Introduction of letters/alphabets

  • Introduction of phonics

  • Correlation of sound with letters

  • Comprehension of the number concept

  • Rote learning

  • Writing

The children having delays show difficulty in articulation, learning to read or correlate the right sound with a letter. Often they may read or recite numbers, alphabets, poems etc. mechanically without understanding it. The concept of numbers particularly means understanding its value and not just rote learning.

Writing requires greater coordination and is hence the toughest activity. An awkward pencil grip which does not allow the child to write may be indicative of the difficulty in finer motor coordination. Intervention can be done by giving the child a thicker crayon to write which can be held by five fingers and not the usual three. Often when schools stress on learning to write early, children show disinterest and avoid written activities.

Sensory &Vestibular difficulties –present in many children are often the causes of Inattentiveness, hyperactivity, excessive movement and fidgetiness.

This may be seen sometimes when the teacher writes on a vertical plane and the child is unable to switch writing on a horizontal one. Extreme touch sensitivity may lead to pushing or hitting behaviours. Auditory sensitivity may cause a child to hear more than required. This leads to distraction as s/he may not be able to process and focus on the most important sound in the class.

Inattentiveness and hyperactivity are closely connected. In order to maintain an awareness of his/her positioning, the child keeps moving to understand and is not able to participate normally in the classroom.


The developmental delays or gaps in learning become more significant if not addressed as soon as detected. As the child advances to the primary classroom (7-10+ years) the following areas show most learning difficulties.

  • Reading, Writing and Maths

  • Spatial Orientation & Body Geography

  • Attention & Hyperactivity

  • Sensory Processing

  • Auditory Processing


It is critical for parents and teachers to spot developmental delays as early as possible, accept these and work to remove them. The earlier the intervention, the greater is the chance of removing learning gaps. Otherwise, the child will have to live with the label of being a learning disabled child!

Session By @ Madhavi Adimulam - Ananya Child Centre, Hyderabad

Written By @ Dr. Anita Verma,

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