How is Developmental Delay Diagnosed?

Developmental delay can be difficult to diagnose. There are two types of tests that can be done, developmental screening and developmental evaluation.

Doctors and nurses use developmental screening to tell if children are learning basic skills when they should, or if they might have problems. Your child’s doctor may ask you questions or talk and play with your child during an exam to see how he or she learns, speaks, behaves and moves. Since there is no lab or blood test to tell if your child may have a delay, the developmental screening will help tell if your child needs to see a specialist.

A diagnosis cannot be made simply by using a screening test. If the results of a screening test suggest a child may have a developmental delay, the child should be referred for a developmental evaluation.

developmental evaluation is an in-depth assessment of a child’s skills and should be administered by a highly trained professional, such as a developmental psychologist; developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist. If the delays are suspected in only one area, the child might be referred to a specialist in that area such as a physical or occupational therapist or speech and language pathologist. In some cases, the child’s development may be assessed by the communities early intervention program. If a delay is confirmed, the child will then be referred to one of the above specialists to try and sort out why the child is delayed. The results of a developmental evaluation are used to determine if the child is in need of further diagnostic tests, early intervention services and/or a treatment plan.

There are a variety of screening and evaluation tools for professionals to use. Early intervention treatments and therapies have the highest success rates when they are provided to children as early as possible in their development. Parents of children with concerns for developmental delay are encouraged to have their child evaluated by a clinician in a timely manner.

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American Academy of Pediatrics

Developmental Delay Resources (DDR)

First Signs

National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Learn the Signs. Act Early (with checklists for Developmental Milestones)

National Center of Medical Home Initiatives for Children with Special Needs

Zero to Three