Developmental Delay in Adults

What is developmental delay in adults?

Developmental delay which first presents in infancy and childhood, and which then extends into adulthood, is often known as a developmental disability.

In some cases developmental delay can be overcome, depending on its cause and severity, and it does not always extend into adulthood.

But developmental delay that does last into adulthood, is a permanent disability or symptom of a developmental disorder or rare disease.

Developmental delay in adults: developmental disability

Adults, as with children, may experience developmental disability in all areas of their development. This includes not meeting developmental milestones in all areas of their development – physical, social and emotional, cognitive, and speech and language development. 

Developmental delay in babies and children that continues into adulthood is usually severe and may impact on the quality of life of an individual, or their ability to handle day to day tasks independently. This is dependent on the type and of severity of the developmental disability. 


Developmental disorders

Some of the most well known developmental disorders include autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and fetal alcohol syndrome. 

Many of the symptoms of these disorders include developmental delay that extends into adulthood. This can include issues with social skills – issues with communication, an inability to form relationships with others, a need for rigid and repetitive routines and ways of doing things, an intense interest in one theme or topic or activity. It may also include issues with speech and language development, and issues with focus and concentration. 

Trauma – mental or physical 

Developmental delay in childhood may be the result of childhood trauma. This may be due to neglect, abuse or injury to the brain or nervous system. 

In some cases developmental delay that is the result of neglect may be addressed, and early intervention may help support development to a normative level. However sometimes this is not possible and may extend into an individual’s adult life. 

Rare disease

Some rare diseases or genetic syndrome present with developmental delay as a symptom, and in some cases depending on the disease and individual affected, this delay may extend into adulthood. 

Individuals with Pitt-Hopkins syndrome often experience developmental delay in several developmental areas as children. Generally their speech and language delay extends into adulthood, with many affected not being able to develop the ability to speak. 

Adults with Angelman syndrome may display continued signs of developmental delay with regards to their speech development, and may also display continued learning difficulties and disabilities beyond childhood. 

Some rare diseases are regressive disorders and  present with developmental delay that develops later, in childhood or early adulthood, and which gets worse with age. Individuals with Sanfillippo, for example, often lose the ability to walk and talk, even after having gained these skills as young children. 

Understanding adult developmental delay as a symptom of a rare disease or genetic syndrome is something that genetic counseling can help individuals and their families to understand better. It can also help with the entire genetic diagnosis process, in order to get to the root cause of developmental delay that continues into adulthood.

In order to detect such delays, it is important to consider talking with a professional. Genetic counseling may provide the answers that you and your family are looking for in navigating certain rare syndromes including Smith-Magenis syndrome and others (SMS).

FDNA™ Health can bring you closer to a diagnosis.
Learn here about symptoms and conditions and contact your clinician.