Developmental delay (DD) affects approximately 1% to 3% of all children in the United States. This diagnosis significantly impedes quality of life and full participation in the life of the family, school, and community. In this setting, the clinician's ability to detect, diagnose, and possibly treat the cause for DD in a timely manner depends on a multimodality approach to neuroimaging and a robust understanding of the various imaging algorithms aimed at determining the etiology of disease, structural and/or anatomic defects, functional activity, metabolic profiles, and genetic characteristics. Taken separately and in combination, these features are effectively depicted and analyzed using an array of brain imaging modalities: ultrasound, computed tomography, nuclear medicine, magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy, and a growing mix of sophisticated MR imaging (MRI) techniques, including diffusion-weighted imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, perfusion MRI, and functional MRI. Thus, equipped with these advanced imaging capabilities, pediatric neurologists and neuroradiologists are now positioned to diagnose with greater accuracy and speed; this, in turn, results in more effective treatment plans and improved patient outcomes as measured by progress in reaching developmental milestones and in ameliorating secondary conditions such as seizures, poor motor control, incontinence, and impulsivity.
The purpose of this article is to present the numerous causes of pediatric DD, describe their respective neuroimaging findings, discuss various neuroimaging approaches for elucidating etiology, and offer specific guidelines for optimizing imaging results in the setting of multimodality imaging capabilities.