Developmental Screenings: What They Are, Why They’re Important

Your child’s first step is a thrill. But it’s also a key milestone—a behavior that usually starts around a certain age. As they grow, young children reach many milestones in how they move, speak, learn, and play. A delay in hitting milestones is sometimes a sign of a bigger problem.

Developmental screenings are designed to pick up such delays early. If all is going well, you will feel reassured. And if there is a problem, your child can start getting help for it sooner. That can make a huge difference in his or her success at home and school.

What These Screenings Look For

You know your child better than anyone. For the screening, the doctor or nurse may ask you questions about your little one’s milestones. He or she may also talk and play with your child.

Developmental screenings can find signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This condition is called a “spectrum disorder” because it can cause a wide range of symptoms. The symptoms also vary in intensity. But all children with ASD have:

  • Difficulty communicating and interacting with others

  • Limited interests and repeated behaviors

  • Challenges in daily life

In addition, developmental screenings help find other problems with:

  • Mental development

  • Language skills

  • Gross motor skills (such as sitting, crawling, and walking)

When to Have Your Child Screened

Ask your child’s health care provider to do a developmental screening at these ages.


What the Doctor Checks

9 months

Delays in development

18 months

Delays in development, signs of ASD

24 or 30 months

Delays in development, signs of ASD

Any time you are concerned

Issues you've noticed at home. If you suspect a problem, call your child's doctor to make an appointment.

A screening alone can’t diagnose ASD or another condition. But it can show when more in-depth testing is needed. This testing is often done by a specialist. If there’s a problem, finding it early helps your child get off to the best possible start in life.

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