Developmental Factors – Delay, Difference and Giftedness

Parent Information
When children develop differently from most of their peers this can create challenges for the child and for their family. Often when children whose development is not typical have common problems (such as anxiety, depression or distractibility) they may have difficulty expressing their distress or the problems may be mistakenly assumed to be related to developmental differences rather than being something for which treatment can be helpful.


Children and adolescents whose intellectual development is well ahead of their peers may develop problems in many of the same areas as other children but these may present differently. The child may do well academically despite being distracted or distressed and at times this may lead to problems being dismissed or seen as deliberate “naughtiness”. Often parents are aware that these children respond well to interesting and intellectually stimulating activities and may seem to relate better with adults and older children.

Very bright children are often assumed to be socially and emotionally more mature than other children of their own age. While the child’s ability to read and have a conversation may be years ahead of their age, social and emotional development is not necessarily advanced. In educational settings, bright children who are distractible or impulsive may be seen as “deliberately naughty” because more is expected of them because of their intellectual ability.

Websites Guide: Social and Emotional Problems Affecting Gifted Children (US)


Sometimes this is part of the autistic spectrum
Children who find it difficult to interpret and make sense of other’s feelings and facial expressions and to learn social skills that others develop easily may have a disorder on the autism spectrum. When this happens, a child or adolescent may show their worries, difficulty concentrating or sadness in a different way from other children.

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect)
National Institute of Mental Health (US): A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder
Raising Children Network (AUS): Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Cognitive difficulties

Specific learning difficulties and overall delay
When children’s intellectual development does not keep pace with other children, clarifying what is happening, getting specific treatment where this is possible and early intervention to optimise their learning are appropriate. For some children specific learning difficulties occur in some areas but not others. Sometimes these problems are evident in infancy, at other times they become clear at preschool or school.

Australian Psychological Society: Learning Disorders in Children
The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne: Developmental Delay - An Information Guide for Parents [PDF]

When to seek help with atypical development overall

Children and adolescents with intellectual disability, specific learning difficulties and autistic spectrum disorders benefit from early intervention and assessment should be done as soon as possible. This process usually begins with seeing the General Practitioner who then liaises with other health and educational professionals. A multidisciplinary team assessment including a Paediatrician and other professionals including Occupational Therapists and Psychologists with specific expertise in these areas is appropriate. Multidisciplinary teams with particular expertise in these areas may offer a broad assessment to tailor early intervention in coordination with your child’s General Practitioner.

A child who is gifted may not have a specific assessment unless the child develops difficulties.

When to seek help for emotional or behavioural concerns

When the child’s level emotional or behavioural difficulty is out of proportion to the circumstances or does not respond to a parent’s efforts to help them manage it is appropriate to consider this with your General Practitioner and other professionals working with you and your child or adolescent.

If with your General Practitioner, Paediatrician and/or Psychologist the difficulties are either not clear or not responding to intervention, a child psychiatric assessment maybe helpful.


Treatment will depend on the nature of the emotional or behavioural problem. In general, children who are gifted will respond to similar interventions to those that are helpful for children with normal range intellectual function. Children with developmental delay or on the autistic spectrum often benefit from more specifically targeted psychological or behavioural interventions and when medication is appropriate, may be more sensitive to smaller doses of medication than other children.