- A coalition of local leaders in Grand and Jackson counties in Colorado created a $320,000 Meeting Milestones Initiative to help identify more children with developmental delays earlier and connect them with services they need to be better prepared for school and life, and the number of children receiving routine screenings has increased from about 30% in 2014 to close to 80%, Chalkbeat reports.
- Members of the initiative worked with a Colorado-based software company to create an app for the “Ages and Stages Questionnaire,” a widely used checklist of age-appropriate activities that takes about 15 minutes for parents to complete, usually at a doctor’s office, preschool, or other community location. The app then refers the child for a more comprehensive evaluation if enough milestones are not being met.
- The increase in screenings helps these communities comply with federal mandates that require that children with significant delays receive early intervention services, such as speech or physical therapy or special education services. Such services also giving children help during the period of most active brain growth and can reduce the need for special education services when they start school.
Developmental delays can impact a young child’s ability to learn when he or she reaches school. While these services can be costly, they can still reduce the high costs of later special education services. When delays are not identified, children enter school well past the time when early interventions would be most effective.
Pediatricians are the professionals most likely to evaluate a child’s developmental progress. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), one in four children are at risk for developmental delays, but 40% of pediatricians do not regularly complete the recommended screenings. The AAP recommends that physicians conduct developmental screenings at every check-up using formal tools when children are 9, 18 and 30 months or whenever examinations lead to a concern. In addition, the AAP recommends that all children be screened for autism spectrum disorder at 18 months and 2 years old.
The U.S. Department of Education also recommends these screenings, and identification and intervention for children with developmental disabilities is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Children in rural areas, however, often go unidentified, a problem that the Meeting Milestones Initiative in Colorado seeks to address. Socioeconomic status and racial factors can also affect both identification of students needing early education intervention and their placement within special education classrooms when they reach school age.
According to a U.S. Department of Education blog post, “Studies found that by 24 months of age, black children were almost five times less likely than white children to receive early intervention services, and that a lack of receipt of services appeared more consistently among black children who qualified based on developmental delay alone compared to children with a diagnosed condition."
School leaders can advocate for early screenings and intervention in their communities. They can partner with early-childhood education providers and local health departments to encourage early screenings using the growing number of assessment tools available for the purpose, as the members of the coalition in Colorado did. These screenings can also be used at community events to help identify children who may need more intense evaluation and services.
Some school districts even advertise and offer free developmental screenings at the district office. Even if these screenings don’t identify developmental issues, this early contact can help to create a relationship with parents when their children enter school in the future.