Sometimes, when a young child has yet to speak their first words, the first thought of action is a referral to a speech-language pathologist. As speech-language pathologists, we’re often the first to determine a developmental delay related to communication, and if there is, what could be the cause of such. It is not uncommon for there to be no single cause of developmental delay. In other cases, there is a family history of developmental delay, and increasingly, developmental delays are due to concomitant diagnoses. Challenges can sometimes be identified as early as 6-9 months of age.
Parents, and some doctors, believe that if we address communication, everything will fall into place. Unfortunately, in many cases, that is not true. Working on communication with a child who, for example, has poor attention and/or is hyperactive is not the best use of that child’s short window of optimal neuroplasticity. The best way to think about this is to ask yourself, If the child does not have an attention span adequate enough to attend to verbal and visual models provided to make requests, how can you expect the child to imitate? In the most challenging cases, a speech-language pathologist should refer the child for occupational therapy first, or at least co-treat with such a therapist.
When we skip steps and/or ignore other developmental challenges, the likelihood of optimal benefits from speech therapy decreases, and can lead to your child needing therapeutic services for a much longer span of time.
As the first therapeutic provider your family encounters, it’s in your child’s best interest to address other areas of concern that may make it challenging for communication goals to be achieved in a timely manner.
To help caregivers realize other possible developmental delays, the following developmental screeners are available online:
Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3)
This developmental screener is often completed in pediatrician offices during your child’s milestone check-ups. It provides reliable information for children between birth and age 6. Easter Seals has provided access to the exact questionnaire online for your convenience. A website administrator manually calculates the score and may take a few days to return results via e-mail.
Baby Navigator Social Communication Check-up (SoCo Check-up)
Infants and toddlers can be screened for skills that develop before children learn to talk, like gestures, sounds, and actions with objects used in play from 9 to 24 months of age. These early skills provide clues about which children will need extra help or support to do their best.
The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R) is a screener that will ask a series of 20 questions about your child’s behavior. It’s intended for toddlers between 16 and 30 months of age. The results will let you know if further evaluation may be needed. You can use the results of the developmental screener to discuss any concerns you may have with your child’s healthcare provider.
The Communication and Sumbolic Behavior Scales – Development Profile is a quick screener designed to measure early communication and symbolic skills in young children. It aims to identify children ages 6 months to 24 months of age who have or are at-risk for developing a communication impairment.
Save the results of your screener. Providers involved in your child’s care will find this information valuable, especially if reported within 30 days, and may use this information to measure progress over a span of time. Your provider may still complete their own screening, and you can also request a provider administered screening. If results are normal or borderline, consider reassessing every 3 to 6 months. Also remember, a screener is not an adequate replacement for a developmental assessment administered by a trained provider.