What Parents Need to Know About Developmental Delays and Eczema


By Melissa Tanoko

Published On: Sep 30, 2022

Last Updated On: Dec 5, 2022

Kids develop at different speeds, and some take more time to learn certain skills. This is normal. But when children have health conditions such as eczema, their typical development can be affected. Once they get further along in school, these differences can become more pronounced. The good news is many states have support systems in place. These may include early intervention for babies and toddlers, or school-based supports like 504 Plans. And yes, children with eczema can qualify for support.

What does the phrase “early intervention” mean for kids?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), early intervention “is the term used to describe the services and supports that are available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities, and their families.”

All states have programs that are publicly funded and available at low or no cost. They include a wide range of services based on each family’s needs. Children under the age of three are served by early intervention programs. Kids age 3 and older can access help through local public schools (even if they don’t attend them). For more information, check the CDC website

Dr. Alison Small, assistant professor of pediatric dermatology at Oregon Health and Science University, underlined the importance of treating the eczema first. She said, “As a pediatric dermatologist, it is always my goal to maintain or improve a child’s quality of life, and return them to age-appropriate activities as soon as possible.” But she agreed that if treatments haven’t yet helped, getting support from other professionals such as occupational therapists may be necessary.

Since children develop on their own timelines, it can be difficult for parents to tell if eczema is impacting typical development. Dr. Lisa Lombard, a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Oak Park, Illinois, advised, “It is a concern if a child is hesitant and guarding against otherwise typical movements or activities because of eczema.” If you think your child’s development may be delayed due to eczema or any other factor, reach out for support sooner rather than later.

How severe eczema can restrict some school activities

Severe eczema affects children physically, mentally and emotionally, especially at school.

Dr. Anna Fishbein, associate professor of pediatrics (allergy and immunology) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said, “It’s very common in severe cases of the hands to have a fine motor impact – particularly with handwriting. I have heard that countless times.”

Problems in school aren’t limited to handwriting, however. In his junior year of high school, Maisie Parades’ son Jeremy faced much bigger problems. Paredes said, “Jeremy was not able to attend class due to his eczema (pain, itching, broken skin, difficulty walking and sleeping).”

When he could attend school, he continued to miss class time to wet wrap two to three times each day. On some days he was forced to stand during class because bending his knees to sit down was too painful.  

Eczema warrior Angelina missed six weeks of school one year due to a severe infection. When she returned, she continued to have trouble walking and writing. Her mother, Laurie Pilkington wrote in this article, “She frequently cried about going to school and seemed depressed. She had so much anxiety over school, she couldn’t fall asleep at night.”

Lombard noted that eczema can pose problems for children intellectually as well. “Children might need additional support in the classroom if they are not able to focus at their expected developmental and grade level, due to discomfort and itch.” The poor sleep quality associated with eczema in children can also make it hard for them to concentrate. Physical education is another area that can make school life challenging. Small explained, “Sometimes parents may notice that their child’s eczema or itch severely flares with sweating or with swimming in chlorinated pools, and they request exemption from these physical activities at school.”

Examples of supplemental educational support

Luckily, support is available. For many children, once teachers and administrators understand the situation, school life gets easier.

Many schools offer laptops or other devices for children who have difficulty holding a pen or pencil.

Jeremy Paredes’ teachers stepped up to help once they were aware of his condition. “Knowing we had the school’s support – that made all the difference in the world,” said Paredes. “They only gave him the most important work to do and excused him from some of the additional work. A couple of teachers even worked with Jeremy one-on-one after school to catch him up. We were so grateful for that!”

When Angelina missed six weeks of school, the school district sent a tutor to her home so she wouldn’t fall behind.

Lombard noted that children who are feeling itchy and distracted could “benefit from shorter assignments, more frequent breaks to get up and go to the restroom as a change of pace, or different seat assignments in a cooler section of the room.”

“Also, if skin treatments help and are not disruptive for the child and others in the room, teachers and school should problem-solve to allow the student to do this self-care,” said Lombard. Eight-year-old Kiley Anderson, for example, goes to the nurse’s office to cool her hands with ice when her eczema gets too itchy. And eczema warrior Ella Gradowski keeps a small fan by her desk to help her stay cool.

How to set up a 504 Plan

A 504 Plan is a document that describes a a child’s developmental needs and the supportive accommodations provided by the school. 504 Plans are available for all children with physical or mental disabilities that affect their day-to-day activities.

If you think a 504 Plan could help, talk to your child’s teacher, or the school’s 504 Coordinator.

Next, be sure to gather evidence to document your child’s condition, including a letter from your child’s physician. “We had to get letters from the doctor explaining Jeremy’s condition, what care he required and what accommodations he needed,” said Paredes. You may also consider including any photos you have of your child’s flares.

Schools usually schedule a meeting between parents, teachers, school administration and other support staff to develop a plan. Be sure to bring all your documentation to the meeting.

This meeting is usually the final step in the process. Paredes said, “After meeting with me, the school administration took it from there and within a couple of weeks, [the 504 Plan] was in place.” For more information on 504 plans, check out this article and the government resource guide.

Getting support builds community

Reaching out for help isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it in the long run. It could change your child’s life, and help other kids with eczema too. Paredes experienced this first-hand: “I began to see a community building around us, a community of understanding, compassion and support. And at the same time, it’s raising awareness of eczema in the wider community.”

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