How to approach a parent when there is a concern for developmental delay

Begin by listening to the parents' concerns.

When warning signs are observed, make sure to document them by describing what you see.

Provide tangible examples to present to the parents, using their own words and examples when possible.

Mention positive behaviors in addition to those which are concerning.

Provide parents with a map of developmental milestones (available here or here) and use this to track their child’s difficulties.

Focus on specific areas of challenge; for example, identify particular language skills you would expect that the child is not demonstrating.

Emphasize that early action can provide much better results.

Have resources available for suggesting next steps:

  • Suggest scheduling an appointment with a developmental pediatrician who screens for Autism and developmental delays
  • Have names and phone numbers available of early intervention programs through the local school district

Be aware

  • Remind parents that you are not making a diagnosis, just raising concerns because expected developmental milestones have not been observed.
  • Avoid using the word ‘normal’, instead focusing on typical and atypical developmental signs.
  • Home behavior may be different than child care behavior
  • Some parents, for whom this may be their first child, might not be aware of developmental milestones.
  • This may be the first time a parent has been made aware of a concern.
  • Reinforce that most behaviors observed a part of their child’s complex neurobiological system.