Screening with Meaning

Parents and familiar caregivers have a unique view into the window of their child’s learning and development.  

The view from the Santa Maria del Fiore of Florence, Italy from inside Filippo Brunelleschi's dome.

The view from the Santa Maria del Fiore of Florence, Italy from inside Filippo Brunelleschi's dome.

We are usually the first one to notice when something does not seem right. A screening assessment is an initial step into verifying a concern. It is only a snapshot with a limited view. A more comprehensive evaluation may be warranted, depending on the results of the screen, where a bigger picture will be taken. Screening with meaning happens when we use the information obtained from parental/caregiver report and observations.

I just finished editing a special issue on promising practices, models, and research in the early identification of young children with delays and disabilities that will appear in the next issue of the Journal of Intellectual Disability - Diagnosis & Treatment. There are eleven journal articles written by experts from around the world in this collection with a wide range of topics related to early detection of delay or disability in early childhood. Three of the articles are international and show what early identification practices look like in Greece, Japan, and Sweden. Other topics range from improving ways to assess children with social emotional difficulties and behavioral challenges to innovative methods for screening young children in remote, hard to reach locations and communities. The innovative ideas in the articles can be applied to create useful meaning out of screening.

To get the most out of developmental-behavioral screening, here are some things parents can do to have a meaningful screening assessment experience.

Before the screening:

  • Locate free screening assessment. All states and outlying territories are required by law to offer services free of charge to parents.

  • Request alternate language if needed.

  • Reflect and jot down your concerns about your child’s development so that you can share them with the professional. Your notes will help you remember everything.

During the screening:

  • Participate in the screening assessment with your child.

  • Share information about your child with the professional. Explain what you notice him or her doing during: routines (e.g., meal times, sleep, brushing teeth, toileting, bathing, dressing, etc.), transitions, play, interactions with you, your family, peers, and others.

  • Bring someone to the screening assessment who can offer you support. Having a trusted and supportive person can help you and your child feel comfortable, and be an extra set of ears to listen to the information given to you by the professional.

  • Share your concerns with the professional.

  • Ask your questions.

After the screening:

  • Find out what the next steps are.

  • Implement positive and healthy coping strategies while you wait for the screening assessment results. Waiting for results can be scary. Don’t panic. Screening is an initial stage of gathering information and there will NOT be a diagnosis from this brief screening assessment. The results will either indicate further assessment is needed, or not.  


Meaningful Screening in Action:

A friend of mine who I will call “Aurora” was concerned about her son. He was 15 months old and not walking. Aurora was worried about him. She contacted the early intervention program in her community, and found out they were hosting a screening clinic at her nearby shopping mall. Aurora arranged to have an interpreter because English is not her native language. She wrote down her concerns about her child’s development and brought them with her to the screening assessment.

The day of the screening assessment Aurora made sure her son was well rested and fed. He was comfortable and performed the way he usually does. Aurora shared information with the professional, asked questions, and explained concerns about her son not walking yet. Her best friend accompanied her to the screening assessment for support. When it was over, the professional explained what would happen next in the process.

While Aurora waited to hear back from the professional with results from the screening assessment, she implemented positive ways to cope with her anxiety. She called her brother who always makes her laugh. She went running. Aurora and her son did fun activities they both enjoy. Like going to the swimming pool.

Two days later Aurora got the call from the professional with results from the screening. Aurora’s intuition was right. Her son performed differently from his same-age peers in the area of gross motor. A team of professionals completed a comprehensive evaluation on her son. He qualified for therapeutic services called early intervention. He eventually started walking and getting stronger in all areas of his development. After a year, Aurora’s son exited early intervention services. The delay in his gross motor development was temporary. Today he has typical development. The meaningful screening assessment was instrumental in addressing Aurora’s concerns.

If you would like more information about screening, contact your local early intervention office. This book is also a helpful resource:

Bricker D, Macy M, Squires J, Marks K. Developmental screening in your community: An integrated approach for connecting children with services. Paul H Brookes Publishing, Baltimore, MD; 2013.