Health Team

New screening helps catch kids' developmental delays

Posted July 23, 2009 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2009 6:29 p.m. EDT

— Thousands of children will be entering kindergarten this year, and many of them are not ready, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics.

About 70 percent of children with developmental delays aren't diagnosed until their teachers notice the problem, the study showed. The real trick to helping these children is early screening.

The pediatrician's office is the logical place to do that, but many doctors are reluctant to adopt a screening method that's too complicated and time consuming.

The North Carolina Partnership for Children is expanding a program that makes the process easier for doctors and families.

A few years ago, 6-year-old Kaishaun Richardson's parents noticed he had some compulsive behaviors and wasn't speaking as well as other kids his age.

“It was more like gibberish. We didn't understand what he was saying,” said Tricia Richardson.

Richardson took her son to Smithfield Pediatrician Dr. Kimberly Fox for a routine checkup. Besides a physical exam, this is when doctors look for developmental delays. Fox says it's hard to draw any conclusions.

“You know, it's only a snap shot of a child every time you see them – you get 15 to 20 minutes to visit that child,” she said.

That's why she now uses a questionnaire from the Assuring Better Child Health and Development program, part of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, funded by Smart Start.

Parents answer questions about different motor skills, speech, problem solving and social skills. It may show that everything's fine or that the child is "at risk."

“It doesn't take much time, and it's more likely to catch kids who are usually missed,” Fox said.

A specialist diagnosed Kaishaun with autism, and he was referred for several state-funded services.

“The science and the studies are showing us that the sooner the earlier intervention and services are in place, the more successful these children will be throughout their school,” said Keri Gilchrist, an inclusion specialist with the N.C. Partnership for Children – Johnston County.

Richardson said her son has been speaking more clearly. He now goes to Jacob's Ladder, where professionals do play-therapy with him.

The screening program is expanding, but many pediatricians have either not heard about it or they're reluctant to use something new, according to WRAL Health Team Physician Dr. Allen Mask.

“A big concern now is that state funding is in limbo right now for many state programs, and if there are cuts to the Smart Start program, the Partnership for Children may not be able to reach as many pediatricians and children with this screening tool,” he said.