Developmental Delays and Infant Brain Injury


While children develop differently, there are certain developmental milestones that they are expected to reach by different ages in early childhood. When a child fails to meet some of these developmental milestones, he or she might be considered to have developmental delays. In some cases, developmental delays are symptoms of birth injuries and malpractice, but in others, they are caused by genetic or environmental factors. Some children with delays will eventually catch up and outgrow them, but others might have developmental disabilities for the rest of their lives.

Developmental Delays vs. Developmental Disabilities

While some people use the terms developmental delays and developmental disabilities interchangeably, they have different meanings. Children can make progress but not outgrow developmental disabilities. Some examples of developmental disabilities include autism, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and others. These types of disabilities are generally not caused by medical malpractice but instead arise from genetic or environmental factors.

By contrast, children might be able to outgrow developmental delays. Some delays are short-term issues, including speech delays caused by ear infections or reduced motor control because of a lengthy hospital stay. Children with developmental disabilities might also show developmental delays. They can be a sign of problems that might appear as the child grows. If you think that your child is not keeping pace with other children his or her age, you should speak with your doctor to schedule an evaluation.

Developmental Delays Causes

Multiple factors can contribute to a child’s developmental delays or developmental disabilities, including those discussed below.

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries occur during labor and delivery or near the time of birth. There are a number of different birth injuries that can cause developmental delays and developmental disabilities.

Birth Asphyxia

A lack of oxygen during birth can result in significant delays and birth injuries, including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Many babies who suffer HIE develop cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities. Some of the types of medical errors that can cause birth asphyxia and developmental disabilities include the following:

  • Failing to timely perform an emergency C-section
  • Failing to properly monitor the fetus or recognize signs of fetal distress
  • Mistakes made during premature birth
  • Misuse of drugs designed to facilitate labor
  • Failing to recognize umbilical cord issues
  • Rupturing the uterus

Traumatic Birth Injuries

An infant can suffer traumatic birth injuries when excessive force is used during delivery. Babies with traumatic birth injuries might suffer developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and others. Misusing delivery devices such as vacuum extractors or forceps can result in traumatic birth injuries. Failing to perform an emergency C-section when an infant is in an abnormal presentation or position can also cause traumatic birth injuries.


Failing to diagnose and properly treat infections can result in developmental delays and disabilities. Some of the types of infections that can cause issues include the following:

  • Group b streptococcus
  • Chorioamnionitis
  • Herpes encephalitis
  • Neonatal sepsis
  • Neonatal meningitis

Birth injuries are often preventable. When medical providers fail to provide care that meets the expected standard, resulting in harm to the baby, the failure can rise to the level of medical malpractice.

Genetic Conditions

Certain chromosomal and genetic abnormalities can cause developmental delays and disabilities. One of the most commonly recognized hereditary developmental disabilities is Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome have a partial or full extra chromosome on the 21st chromosome. Fragile X is another recognized developmental disability caused by genetic factors. Children with fragile X syndrome have a genetic mutation that prevents them from producing a crucial protein.

Other Causes

Some developmental delays begin later and are caused by infections, injuries, or other problems. For some developmental disabilities that cause developmental delays, there is no known cause. For example, autism has become increasingly prevalent, but scientists are unsure of what causes it.

Types of Developmental Delays

Children can show signs of developmental delays in one or more of five areas, including cognitive delays, social/emotional delays, speech delays, motor skill delays, and delays in the ability to complete activities of daily living. Some children have global developmental delays, which means that they are delayed in two or more of the five areas.

Cognitive delays can affect a child’s ability to function intellectually and can lead to learning problems. Cognitive delays might not be recognized until a child starts school. They can be caused by genetic disorders, medical issues before birth, learning disabilities, neglect, lead poisoning, exposure to alcohol or drugs before or after birth, and exposure to chemicals.

Social and emotional delays affect the ability of a child to relate to others and to control emotions. Babies with these types of delays might not make sounds or facial expressions to communicate with others. Older children might not ask for help, point at wanted objects, or interact with other children or adults. These types of delays can be caused by autism, attachment disorders, cognitive delays, neglect, and parenting issues.

Speech and language delays cause problems with a child’s ability to use speech and engage in reciprocal communication. Infants might not babble or coo, and older children might have trouble understanding what others say or responding appropriately. Many issues can cause speech and language delays, including autism, learning disabilities, abuse or neglect, multiple languages being spoken in the home, hearing loss, genetic disorders, and others.

Motor skill delays can affect a child’s fine or gross motor skills. Fine motor skill delays can affect the child’s ability to use the small muscles of the hands. Gross motor skill delays can affect the child’s ability to use large muscle groups. Motor skill delays can be caused by premature birth, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, vision problems, brain damage during or after birth, ataxia, or myopathy.

Finally, delays in the activities of daily living refer to delays that affect a child’s ability to learn to dress himself or herself, eat, and bathe. These types of delays can be caused by many factors, including cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and others.

Speak to a Child Injury Lawyer at Raynes & Lawn

If your child is showing signs of delays that you believe were caused by traumatic birth injuries or other medical mistakes during pregnancy or childbirth, you should speak to a birth trauma attorney at Raynes & Lawn as soon as possible. We can review the medical records and provide you with an honest assessment of your potential claim. Call us today for a free consultation at 1-800-535-1797.


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