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How to Help Developmentally Delayed Children Learn New Things

by Julie Christensen, studioD

Learning that your child has a developmental delay can seem frightening or overwhelming, but take heart. Children with developmental delays can learn just like any other child. They simply need a slower rate of instruction and a few tweaks to your teaching methods. Once you learn these secrets, you'll find that the time you spend working together can be highly rewarding for both of you.

Break tasks down into simple steps. To teach your child how to clean her room, for example, help her focus on one area first. Say something like, "You put the books in this box and I'll put the dolls on this shelf." Checklists and visuals of the steps required for any given task are helpful.

Give clear, direct instructions. Kids with developmental delays often don't understand metaphors or idioms. They may also have difficulty reading facial expressions and body language. Tell your child exactly what you want him to do. Saying "Please write your name at the top of the paper and read the first paragraph," is much clearer than "Get your homework done."

Practice new skills over and over again. Children with developmental delays can learn new things, but they need more time and practice. Be patient and consistently practice any new skill. Some children with developmental delays may lose a recently acquired skill if you don't continue to practice it.

Offer visuals and hands-on learning. Most children with developmental delays are visual or kinesthetic learners. Using these tools can significantly enhance learning. When your child's learning her alphabet letters, read alphabet books, manipulate magnetic alphabet letters or write the letters in sand or cornmeal.

Recognize achievements. Children with developmental delays often work much harder than other children to learn new things. Give genuine, sincere praise for your child's effort even if she hasn't yet mastered a new skill.

Incorporate strengths and interests. If your child loves dinosaurs, use them as a vehicle for writing, reading and math projects. These academic tasks are usually arduous for children with developmental delays. Adding interesting projects keeps your child engaged and also sends the message that you welcome his input in the learning process.

Guide your child through difficult motor activities. Learning to ride a trike is a big task. Put your child's feet on the pedals and put your hands on top of her feet. Push her feet with her hands over and over again until she gets the idea. Use this same concept for teaching how to zip a coat, how to write letters or go up stairs.


  • Although children with developmental delays usually have some things in common, every child is different. A specialist experienced in assessing learning styles and developmental needs can help you understand your child's specific strengths and needs. Tailor learning based on this information.
  • Some kids with developmental delays also have problems with sensory regulation. They may be easily distracted or overwhelmed by noises, smells, sensations and textures. Watch your child for signs of sensory overload, such as agitation, hand flapping or face flushing. Address these sensory issues before you try to teach new skills.


  • Aperger Syndrome & Your Child: A Parent's Guide; Michael D. Powers; 2003
  • 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching & Raising Children with Autism or Asperger's; Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk; 2010
  • A Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome & High-Functioning Autism; Sally Ozonoff, PhD, et al.; 2002

About the Author

Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images