Infancy and early childhood are a time of rapid growth and development. Well-child exams give our team the opportunity to chart that growth, monitor their health, evaluate their hearing and vision, check their reflexes, and offer protection against vaccine-preventable illnesses.
Starting at your baby’s nine-month wellness appointment, we also begin conducting formal developmental screenings to see if they’re speaking, acting, playing, learning, and moving as expected. Each child develops at their own pace, though most reach specific developmental milestones by certain ages.
Here, our expert team at Pediatric Practitioners of Oklahoma explains why developmental screenings are so important, and what you can expect at your child’s first one.
Understanding developmental monitoring
Developmental monitoring is the ongoing observation of how your child grows and changes from infancy to early childhood — specifically whether they meet typical developmental milestones in learning, movement, behavior, speech, and play. From your baby’s earliest well-child visits, our team engages in developmental monitoring.
Most parents and caregivers participate in developmental monitoring without giving it much thought; you noticed when your baby rolled over, smiled, or waved good-bye for the first time, for example.
Our team conducts developmental monitoring by asking you questions about your young child, or by talking or playing with them. At two months of age, for example, we ask if your baby:
- Smiles when you talk to them or smile at them (social/emotional)
- Holds their head up when placed on their tummy (movement)
- Makes sounds other than crying (language/communication)
- Watches you as you move; looks at a toy for several seconds (cognitive)
By four months of age, we ask if your baby:
- Smiles on their own to get your attention (social/emotional)
- Pushes up onto their forearms when placed on their tummy (movement)
- Makes sounds back when you talk to them (language/communication)
- Opens their mouth when they see the bottle or breast (cognitive)
As these examples indicate, developmental monitoring is all about seeing where your child is in relation to typical milestones, and observing their progression as they grow.
Developmental screenings: A closer look
More formal than developmental monitoring, developmental screenings take a closer look at your child’s development at specific ages. These important screenings evaluate the same areas as regular developmental monitoring, but with a more exhaustive checklist of questions and observations.
Given that they’re more comprehensive than routine monitoring, developmental screenings tend to take a bit longer than what you’ve come to expect when we conduct developmental monitoring at routine wellness exams. Your baby’s first developmental screening occurs at their nine-month checkup.
Through a question-answer session with you and a few brief talk or play interactions with your baby, we assess their development by considering milestones in every growth area:
- Social/emotional capacity
- Language/communication level
- Movement/physical ability
- Cognitive aptitude (learning; problem solving)
What are we looking for? By nine months of age, most babies can get into a sitting position by themselves and sit without support. Most babies also look for objects that drop out of sight, look when they hear their name, act shy, clingy, or fearful around strangers, and lift their arms when they want to be picked up.
Next steps after a developmental screening
If your baby is developing as expected, there are no next steps beyond continuing to attend recommended well-child exams. Your child’s next developmental screening takes place at 18 months, followed by another at 30 months. All children are also screened for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during routine wellness checkups at 18 months and 24 months of age.
If our screening identifies an area of concern, we may recommend a formal developmental evaluation. During a developmental evaluation, a trained specialist takes an in-depth look at your child’s development, checking for indications of:
- Social delays (i.e., doesn’t seem to recognize familiar people)
- Fine motor delays (i.e., doesn’t transfer objects from one hand to the other)
- Gross motor delays (i.e., doesn’t bear weight on legs when supported)
- Communication delays (i.e., doesn’t babble; doesn’t reach for you)
- Cognitive delays (i.e., doesn’t respond to their name)
When a child is diagnosed with a developmental delay, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Specific treatments and/or early intervention care can make a world of difference for young children who aren’t developing as expected. These tools help ensure your child has their specific social, emotional, behavioral, physical, and learning needs met as they grow up.
To learn more or schedule your child’s next developmental screening at Pediatric Practitioners of Oklahoma in Claremore, Oklahoma, call or click online to make an appointment today.