Young children develop rapidly, frequently experiencing tremendous
change and growth physically, cognitively, linguistically, and socially.
Preschoolers, for example, seem to race from one milestone to the
next. Nevertheless, the rate of growth and development among young
children varies greatly. Indeed, as a result of this high variability
during early childhood, evident in nearly any environment with preschoolers
and kindergartners, many professionals balk at labeling children
as learning disabled. However, because studies indicate that early
intervention can make a significant difference in a child's development,
many other professionals want to respond promptly when they note
developmental delays or see that certain children are not meeting
typical expectations. When this is the case, an appropriate evaluation
is necessary to determine whether or not a child will benefit from
early intervention and, if so, what kind of intervention. Moreover,
an individual comprehensive evaluation that examines at-risk indicators,
makes identifications, and advocates service delivery will be appropriate.
This is especially true for children with suspected learning disabilities
whose profiles frequently exhibit intracognitive differences that
can obscure overall abilities.
Children exhibiting signs of developmental delay will benefit from
professional, comprehensive assessment in some or all of the following
- Background information about family, early development, health,
language, literacy and educational experiences. A record
of early developmental milestones will provide information about
rate of learning, and note should be made of the age at which
parents or teachers first observed "problems."
- Hearing and vision. Some physiological causes effect
developmental delays. For example, a hearing impairment can interfere
with language acquisition; a child with a visual impairment may
be unable to interpret and interact with his or her environment
- Perception, memory, language, thinking skills, and problem
solving. Assessment of these skills and aptitudes can
assist in distinguishing between children delayed in all aspects
of development and those slow in a few areas, who otherwise perform
as well or better than their age peers.
- Listening comprehension and expressive language. Observation
of the child as he or she communicates with parents, teachers
and peers demonstrates his or her ability to comprehend single
words, sentences, questions and short stories. A child should
be able to use words previously learned, express ideas in an organized
way, manipulate the sounds that make words, and play rhyming games,
as appropriate. Constraints associated with formal testing may
be less evident during observation, revealing more of what a child
knows or can express. This is a significant area of observation
because other symbolic systems, such as reading, writing, and
mathematics are based largely on oral language.
- Awareness and manipulation of sounds in words, letter names,
and picture names. These are good predictors of early reading.
- Writing mechanics and early content. A child's pencil
grasp during the writing process, samples of drawings, invented
spellings, and pretend messages can effectively supplement the
results of more constrained formal testing.
- Mathematics. Testing instruments assess a child's verbal,
visual and cognitive skills by his or her ability to recognize
numerals and perceive quantitative and qualitative characteristics
(more, less, bigger, similar, different). Additional informal
observation is also valuable.
- Reasoning. A child's ability to sort, group, classify
objects and attributes, solve problems, and understand cause and
effect can be determined by the performance of various tasks and
by careful observation.
- Social and self-help skills and use of non-verbal communication.
Children should demonstrate the ability, progressively, to
put on articles of clothing, tie shoes, button buttons, select
clothes that are appropriate for different activities and weather
conditions, and feed themselves. A child should learn to take
turns, as play progresses from sensory exploration to a combination
of exploration and representational play. Observing the child
perform tasks that require careful observation and other visual-spatial
skills can be beneficial.
- Attention. Younger children may be expected to lack sustained
attention and be overactive, while kindergartners should develop
the ability to remain on-task for a sustained period. Observation
can reveal problems in this area.
- Maturation. Parents can provide information about a child's
ability to care for him- or herself and for others. From this
information, along with observation, a child's level of general
independence can be determined.
Finally, periods of diagnostic testing should reveal a child's
rate and style of learning and insight into beneficial forms of
instruction by providing valuable data on his or her performance
over time and across contexts.
Early Childhood Committee-Education,
LDA of America