What does developmental arrest mean?

Updated April 17, 2017

The term developmental arrest means that some aspect of normal growth and development has halted. Such an arrest can affect any aspect of development--physical, intellectual or emotional. Global delay is diagnosed when all areas of development are impaired.


In children, developmental arrest is failure to gain accepted milestones--including social and psychological milestones--on time. In teenagers, it may involve failure to attain puberty; in adults, inability to handle emotions or empathise with others.


Arrested sexual development is usually caused by eating disorders, irritable bowel disease, or side effects of stimulant medications. It may be chromosomal---for example Turner syndrome, which affects girls, halting growth and preventing puberty. Arrested social development occurs with autism, ADHD and personality disorders. These conditions have genetic components. Global delay is usually chromosomal, as in fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, Rett's syndrome or Angelman syndrome. It can also result from metabolic disorders.


Speech delay in early childhood is the most common indicator for most developmental disorders. Other indicators include motor difficulties and problems with toileting, avoiding eye contact, not developing empathy, laughing inappropriately and not exhibiting fear or pain.

Time Frame

Concerns are justified if babbling and crawling have not begun by 12 months or talking and walking by two years. Puberty is considered arrested if development has not begun by 13, or menstruation by 16.

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About the Author

Based in the Isle of Man, Tamasin Wedgwood has been writing on historical topics since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "The International Journal of Heritage Studies," "Museum and Society" and "Bobbin and Shuttle" magazine. She has a Master of Arts (Distinction) in museum studies from Leicester University.