Andrea L. Herrington, MS, CCLS is a mom to 2 children, ages 5y and 10y. She has been providing home based services to children for 15 years in the Orange-Windsor region of Vermont. These services have included Early Head Start, Early Intervention, Early Childhood Mental Health, and Family Support, as well as facilitating community playgroups and parent/provider education. She earned her BS in Human Development & Family Studies from UVM and a MS in Child Life & Family-Centered Care from Wheelock College. As a Certified Child Life Specialist, she provides home-based expressive therapy and play to children in the Pediatric Palliative Care Program through VNH. Andi works as part of the CIS team at the Orange County Parent Child Center and can be contacted there at 802-685-2264 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on developmental screening. Contact your local Parent Child Center to request an age appropriate questionnaire for your child.
The Role of Developmental Screenings
When children are allowed to explore, play, read or share the joy of singing with a trusted adult, these positive early experiences build the brain, creating a foundation for all learning (development) that comes afterward.
But when children and their families are unable to access these quality early learning opportunities, early development can be negatively impacted. Additionally, some children may be born with a developmental disability that--with developmental screening--could be detected at an early age. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), less than half of children who have developmental challenges are identified before starting school. In Vermont, 40-50% of children are not prepared for kindergarten.
What is Developmental Screening?
Developmental screening is a simple and effective tool that has the potential to improve the lives of children and families by providing a quick snapshot, at set ages, of where a child is developmentally. These periodic developmental check-ins make sure that typically developing children are staying on track. Screening tools are by design just a first look, not an in-depth test or evaluation. However, they do offer a safety net to catch children who may not be reaching all of the usual milestones and who may need further evaluation.
Language, motor, cognitive and social-emotional skills progress at each child’s unique pace as they engage with those around them, seeking to make meaning from their experiences. The beauty of this individual process is that around the world, across cultures, across all languages, we can observe that all children achieve certain skills or points on this human developmental journey, in roughly the same timeframes. We call these skills and expected timeframes "milestones."
Just like stepping stones leading across a river, we all need to land on and pass all of these developmental milestones to get to the other side successfully. For early childhood, the other side of the river is entry to kindergarten. Some children may land on these stepping stones in slightly different ways or at slightly different times, and some children may need help to reach certain milestones.
Milestones actually represent a range of ages when we expect to see all children accomplish these stepping stone skills. For example, people generally know that kids start to talk around 18 months. How this is actually measured as a milestone is, “6-8 words besides ‘mama’ & ‘dada’ by 18 months.” However, the range of ages when this is usually seen is between 15-18 months and very often does not happen for many kids until age 2 years. In early intervention services, the majority of the referrals tend to be children who are 2 years old and “not talking” yet—but who, with a little support, would quickly master the necessary skills.
While some screening tools are designed specifically for professionals—such as healthcare professionals, social workers, or teachers—to administer, most screening tools are designed to be completed either by parents or in partnership with parents. Many licensed early education centers and registered home child cares offer developmental screenings. Teachers and caregivers may complete these only after spending significant time observing a child, and most ask parents to complete the questionnaires, too. Home visiting support programs often ask parents to complete these questionnaires and find that parents enjoy the conversation and being involved as partners. It's a chance to learn more about their child’s development and behavior, as well as what skills are coming next.
Screenings are Preventative
Screenings are designed to be preventative. At their best, they're a team effort between parents and providers to take a first step in preventing a child’s developmental problems through early intervention, or to confirm that problems are not present for a child. The advantage of catching developmental problems early on is that helping the children catch up to their peers is easier and requires fewer resources while the brain is still rapidly developing. Screenings allow us as a community to use the period of time when the brain’s foundation is literally being built to make sure all children enter school ready to learn.