Your child’s growth and development are monitored through a partnership between you and your health professional. At each well-child visit the doctor looks for developmental delays or problems and talks with you about any concerns you might have. This is called developmental monitoring. Any problems noticed during developmental monitoring should be followed-up with developmental screening.
Children with special health care needs should have developmental monitoring and screening just like those without special needs. Monitoring healthy development means paying attention not only to symptoms related to the child’s condition, but also to the child’s physical, mental, social, and emotional well being.
Well-child visits allow doctors and nurses to have regular contact with children to keep track of your child’s health and development through periodic developmental screening. Developmental screening is a short test to tell if a child is learning basic skills when he or she should, or if there are delays. Developmental screening can also be done by other professionals in health care, community, or school settings.
The doctor might ask you some questions or talk and play with the child during an examination to see how he or she plays, learns, speaks, behaves, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a problem.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at 9 months; 18 months; and 24 or 30 months. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birthweight, or other reasons.
If your child’s doctor does not routinely check your child with this type of developmental screening test, you can ask that it be done.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Many children with developmental delays are not being identified as early as possible. As a result, these children must wait to get the help they need to do well in social and educational settings (for example, in school).
In the United States, about 13 percent of children 3 to 17 years of age have a developmental or behavioral disability, such as autism, intellectual disability (also known as mental retardation), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In addition, some children have delays in language or other areas that can affect school readiness. Unfortunately, many children with developmental disabilities are not identified before age 10, by which time significant delays already might have occurred and opportunities for treatment might have been missed.
Research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child’s development. Early intervention services help children from birth through 3 years of age (36 months) learn important skills. Services include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that children younger than 3 years of age (36 months) who are at risk of having developmental delays, might be eligible for early intervention treatment services even if the child has not received a formal diagnosis. These services are provided through an early intervention system in each state.
In addition, treatment for particular symptoms, such as speech therapy for language delays, often does not require a formal diagnosis. Although early intervention is extremely important, intervention at any age can be helpful.
For more information, see your family doctor or visit www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/