A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Developmental screenings: How they work for children

A girl plays with a stuffed rabbit.

The first few years of a child’s life are crucial to ensure they are developing properly. This is why most pediatric providers conduct developmental screenings during a child’s well-child appointment.

The first few years of a child’s life are crucial to ensure they are developing properly. This is why most pediatric providers conduct developmental screenings during a child’s well-child appointment.

Developmental screenings are questionnaires that parents fill out that allow a pediatric provider to find any concerns they would have with a child’s development.

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire, which is most commonly referred to as the ASQ, is a common screening pediatric providers use. Most pediatric providers recommend taking an ASQ at a child’s 9-, 18- and 24-month well-child appointments. If developmental delays are discovered, additional screenings may be recommended for children up to five years old.

“We do it to make sure kids are meeting their milestones,” said Dr. Nicole Francis, pediatrician with Marshfield Children’s. “If we find anything, we can institute early interventions to help them meet their milestones in the future.”

Your provider may have many developmental screenings they request you to complete. For instance, the M-CHAT screening checks for autism.

Screenings can be done sooner

While there are often set ages these screenings are provided, your pediatric provider can do a developmental screening at any time if you have any concerns.

“It is important that if there are concerns, that it is brought to the pediatrician’s attention so the child can be looked at appropriately,” Dr. Francis said. “Parents are around their kids all the time, but we only see them for a short period. Letting us know about those concerns will help in the long run.”

After the age of five, your pediatric provider will still ask questions that relate to development during your child’s well-child appointment. Pediatric providers often ask about peer interactions, how school is going and overall if the parent has any concerns.

How developmental screenings work

These screenings can discover developmental delays in several areas.

  • Speech: The questionnaire will ask questions that test how understandable the child is to strangers and how many words the child can say.
  • Gross and fine motor skills: This section looks at whether the child is able to do gross motor tasks like sitting, walking and crawling. It also looks at fine motor tasks like drawing and using their silverware.
  • Problem solving: During this part, the questions will try to determine if the child can figure things out, such as how to stack blocks.
  • Social/emotional learning: The ASQ also tries to assess if your child is socially appropriate. It might ask questions like, “Does your 18-month old play with a doll or stuffed animal by hugging it?”

After the questions are done, a member of the care team adds up the points from each section to determine if the child is on track. None of these tools are diagnostic tools, but it helps the pediatrician determine if they need to refer your child to any specialists, like the Child Development Center at Marshfield Children’s, for help with a delay.

For more information about developmental screenings, talk to your child’s pediatric provider.

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