All children develop and learn at a different rate, but some children may need more play, practice or teaching of certain skills in order to master them. Developmental monitoring and screening can provide parents, caregivers and physicians reassurance that a child’s development is on track, or might signal that a child may need additional support.
Both developmental screening tools and developmental monitoring tools check and see what the child can and cannot do. Both look at developmental domains, or different groups of skills. Usually, tools group skills into five areas or domains: speech and language, fine motor (small body movements), gross motor (large body movement), problem solving (cognitive development) and social emotional.
Developmental monitoring by parents and early care and education providers is a great way to ensure that all children who need support get access to developmental screenings and supports as soon as possible. The CDC’s “Learn the Signs, Act Early” materials can help parents and early care and education providers understand what is developmentally appropriate for children. The “Milestone Checklists” can be used by comparing what the caregiver knows the child can do to the developmental milestones listed. This can reassure parents when a child is developmentally appropriate or, more critically, help identify when a child may need an evaluation for services that can help the child build important developmental skills. Developmental monitoring happens consistently over time and is a good way see if a child is not reaching milestones or is reaching them much later than children the same age. This can be the earliest indication that a child may have a developmental delay.
Universal developmental screening of children helps parents, caregivers, teachers and pediatricians know whether a child is achieving important developmental stages through the use of a specific, researched tool that is administered by the parent, teacher or physician. Most of the developmental screening tools are short questionnaires that can be completed by parents, physicians and caregivers. These tools are more formal than the developmental milestone checklists used in developmental monitoring. They have been research tested for validity and reliability; the results of a screening can provide more information about whether a child needs further testing. Some early care and education programs conduct developmental screening when a parent or teacher has a specific concern about a child’s development. Others may refer a family to the local Early Intervention Program for a screening if a concern is identified. Some programs provide a developmental screen annually for every child participating in the program.
If the developmental checklist or developmental screening tool indicates that the child is not meeting a developmental milestone, the parent should talk with a physician. The parent or the caregiver can also make a referral to the child’s local Early Intervention program (if the child is under 3) or the child’s local school district for further evaluation for services. These programs will provide more information about what services the child may be eligible for and will work with the family to determine if the child is eligible for these programs.
Child Care Referral and Resource agencies provide training and education to parents and caregivers across the country. Providing messages and resources to parents and caregivers about developmental monitoring and developmental screening can help parents learn what to expect their child to be able to do, and can help parents and caregivers have informed discussions about a child’s progress. It can also help parents identify if their child needs extra support early, which can empower them to have conversations with caregivers and pediatricians about their child’s learning.
Child care providers can use developmental monitoring sheets to help start and continue conversations about a child’s progress and learning with parents, and gives them something to use to engage parents in the conversation. CCR&Rs can share developmental monitoring checklists with parents in consumer education, can provide developmental monitoring checklists to providers in training and can link to the CDCs website so that consumers and providers can learn more.
We recommend that if your program or center’s consumer education doesn’t already do so, include information on developmental monitoring and screening to parents and staff. Reach out to local early intervention programs and preschool special education programs to learn more about next steps when a child is referred, so that resource centers can provide base-level information to parents on the next steps. If the existing tools don’t meet the needs of your community, let us know. We are happy to look for ways to help you meet the needs of your community for outreach in this area!