Implications Of Culture On Developmental Delays

Because developmental delays refer more to a disparity in an individual's development relative to a societal norm, rather than a specific condition causing that lag, many have argued that a developmental delay is really a cultural construct. In her article "The Implications of Culture on Developmental Delay," Rebeca Valdivia argues for the need for educators to be fully sensitive to a child's cultural condition before diagnosing (or mis-diagnosing) the existence of a developmental delay.

A simple first step, which many professionals have already taken, is to use procedures that are referenced to local norms. Some questions Valdivia suggests in order to create such procedures are:

  • "Were the norms inclusive of the diversity of families found in the communities across the United States with which the tool will be applied?"
  • "Did these 'diverse' children also represent variations that typify the communities in which the tool will be applied?" (i.e. socioeconomic variations within an ethnic group)
  • "Does the tool or process include provisions to conduct the assessment in the child's dominant language(s)?"
  • "Will specially trained personnel familiar with the family's culture, practices, and beliefs conduct the assessment?"

In addition to asking these questions, though, Valdivia notes that the age norms used to identify developmental delays are often arbitrarily aligned to white, middle-class child rearing norms. This is all to say that what may seem like a "developmental delay" to one specialist may be entirely "normal" to a child's family or community.

The implications of these arguments are obvious. It is incredibly important that educators have a wide range of tools for assessment and instruction as well as a deep understanding of a child's cultural context. Communication between educators and the children they serve is essential — making interpreters available, providing printed and audio-visual materials in the families' dominant languages, and creating a network of parents are all important tools. Overall, a child must be "diagnosed" within the appropriate cultural contexts, and not simply according to white, middle-class norms.


Valdivia, Rebeca (1999). "The Implications of Culture on Developmental Delay." Eric Digest 438 663.

This page was created by Jimmy Sarakatsannis.