How physiotherapy can support children with Development Delay

How physiotherapy can support children with Development Delay



Physiotherapy can play an important part in supporting children with Developmental Delay. A child can have a developmental delay when they are not reaching certain milestones at a similar rate to other children their age. Physiotherapy can help when children experience delays in areas including:

  • Cognitive
  • Emotional
  • Motor skills

Support for Cognitive Developmental Delay

Recent research has shown that physical activity has significant and positive changes in cognitive function in early childhood – specifically in the domains of language learning, academic achievement, attention, and working memory. Our Physiotherapists work closely alongside our Occupation Therapists to help children develop their cognitive skills through physical activities. Cognitive skills include high-level intellectual functions and processes for example:

  • attention
  • memory
  • knowledge
  • decision making
  • planning & judgment
  • perception
  • comprehension
  • visuospatial function

How does it work?

A physiotherapist will first do an assessment to gather information on your child’s current physical and cognitive ability. Then, they will provide activities and recommendations either in the clinic or at home to develop your child’s gross motor skills and work towards your family’s goals.

It’s important that our sessions are fun and can become part of your daily routines. Therefore, play-based therapy is often used to increase children’s coping strategies and psychosocial skills. Motor planning to problem solve tasks and memory games can also be incorporated. Your child’s Physiotherapist can also include sleep hygiene counselling, relaxation techniques and sensorimotor approaches into their session to ensure that they are receiving a holistic approach.

Support for social and emotional developmental delay

Physiotherapists work with Occupational therapists and Speech Therapists to collaboratively support children’s social and emotional development by assisting them in building confidence and independence in navigating the world around them.

How does it work?

The role of your child’s Physiotherapist is to prescribe assistive technology (AT) to enable your child to explore their environment and engage in social life. This helps them to build their confidence and independence in social and emotional skills. Examples of AT prescribed by a physiotherapist includes wheelchair, Ankle-Foot Orthosis (AFO), walkers, hoists and bikes.

For toddlers and young children, your Physiotherapist can teach you optimal positions or postures for sitting and play in order to engage and interact with others.  

Group programs can also provide opportunities to interact with peers in a controlled environment with the support from physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. In a group, the children are supported to practice their social and emotional skills with peers such as turn taking, sharing, recognising emotions and calming strategies.

Physiotherapists can also provide appropriate information about local community activities for children with additional needs so that they are participating and included in their communities.

Support for children with developmental delay in motor skills

Research has shown that early physiotherapy intervention can improve outcomes for children with gross and fine motor developmental difficulties. Our Physiotherapists incorporate numerous strategies to help your child increase their motor skills. Some motor skills milestones that in the early years include:

  • Crawling
  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Bike riding/ scootering
  • Catching/throwing/kicking
  • and many more!

How does it work?

Your child’s Physiotherapist will start with a thorough assessment of your child in their environment to assess their current motor skills. Observation and play therapy can be used to assess these skills and relate them back to key gross motor function. After the initial assessment, the Physiotherapist will evaluate your child’s needs and family goals to deliver family-centred interventions to support your child’s motor milestones. Physiotherapy supports can include:

  • Neuro-Development Treatment (NDT)
    • Hands on approach
  • Prescription of Assistive Technology (e.g. Orthosis, walkers, sleep systems)
  • Aquatic Therapy
  • Play based therapy (home, childcare, playground)
  • Education and advice on daily living/environmental changes
  • Individualised home programs
  • Collaboration with other therapies and community programs

Further information

We are the Peak Body in Queensland for children with Developmental Delay. We’re here to provide information, online and phone support and referrals. Visit our Developmental Delay page for further information or call us on 1800 XAVIER.

Resources (Zeng et al., 2017).