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What are the Different Types of Developmental Screening Tests?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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Developmental screening tests are designed for newborns, preschool, and school-aged children to measure whether developmental delays exist. These developmental screening tests analyze whether a child exhibits normal mental, physical and behavioral growth when compared to other children the same age. The tests can help identify developmental delays so parents can weigh early treatment options.

Three major disorders might be diagnosed through developmental screening tests: mental retardation, autism and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Screening a child at different stages of growth may uncover one of these disorders that affect learning, social interaction and physical development. Physicians typically assess motor skills, language ability, emotional responses and behavioral conduct when conducting developmental screening tests.

Newborn assessment might detect a metabolic disorder called phenylketonuric (PKU), which regulates the level of an enzyme necessary for normal growth. Too much of this enzyme may affect the brain and hinder normal development. If PKU is discovered, the infant can receive a special diet immediately after birth to ward off developmental delays. Infant screening can also detect more than 20 other disorders through tandem mass spectrometry testing. These exams use a drop of blood taken from the baby’s heel shortly after birth.

Babies typically undergo additional developmental screening tests twice within the next two years. An assessment can determine if the child speaks, crawls, and walks normally for his or her age. Preschool screening tests are generally recommended to determine if behavioral problems exist that might affect the child’s school performance. At this age, the child is commonly tested for his or her attention level, visual perception, and mental growth.

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder marked by impulsive conduct and learning difficulties. Developmental screening tests for this condition look at family history of learning problems, educational progress, and communication skills. Children with this disorder might become easily distracted and forgetful, and talk excessively, creating problems in the classroom. A child with ADHD may be unable to finish school tasks because his or her attention wanes.

Developmental screening tests for autism measure a child's interaction with parents and other children. The child may test normally for intelligence, but be unable to bond with others. A child with autism commonly avoids eye contact and prefers isolation. He or she may be ultrasensitive to light, noise, or touch. These children typically crave routine and might fixate on a particular object or toy.

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