Observing Your Child's Development A child's early years are extremely important for their future health and development. It is for this reason that so much attention is paid to how a child is progressing toward their developmental milestones. There are different ways to observe and track a child's development, beginning with frequent, informal observations made by a parent or caregiver all the way to a formal, time-intensive assessment conducted by a specialist. The informal checks (or monitoring) performed by caregivers should be supported by less frequent, more thorough checks, such as a developmental screening or checklist. If for some reason any of these checks result in a concern for the child's development, a more formal evaluation or assessment may be recommended. To find out more about each of these developmental checks, click on the menu bars below. Developmental Monitoring and Observations Developmental monitoring refers to the informal ways that a child's growth and development are checked to make sure they are progressing and meeting their developmental milestones. These frequent, ongoing checks can be done by parents, grandparents, early childhood providers, and/or other caregivers. They consist of the day-to-day observations that let you know if your child is playing, learning, speaking, behaving, and moving in ways that are appropriate for their age. Developmental monitoring is also done by your child's pediatrician during their well-child visits. This, too, is done informally, by asking questions or talking and playing with your child during the visit. All of these simple checks work together to build a picture of your child's development. In most cases, a child's development will be on track, showing that they are meeting their age-specific milestones. But what if you notice your child having difficulty mastering a new skill or if you feel something just isn't right with how they are progressing? If this is the case, it's important that you talk to your child's pediatrician or early childhood educator about your concern. The next step will likely be to take a closer look at your child's overall development by having them screened. Developmental Screening A developmental screening takes a closer look at how your child is developing. It often consists of a set of tasks for the child to complete and/or a parent questionnaire that gathers information about the skills that your child is learning, as well as those skills or milestones that they may be struggling with or missing. The main purpose of a developmental screening is to make sure a child's development is on track. If it appears that the child's development is delayed in some way, the screening results will be explained and next steps, such as the possibility of making a referral for a formal assessment, will be discussed. Research has shown that identifying and intervening as early as possible when a developmental delay is suspected can have a significant impact on the child's development. It is for this reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that developmental and behavioral screenings be done when the child is 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months of age. Effective screenings require the active participation of both the early care and education (ECE) provider and the parent. In order for parents to feel a part of the screening process, ECE providers should take the time to: Explain what a screening is and why it is being completed Review the purpose and overall goals of the screening Openly discuss the results of the screening with the family and, if necessary, make recommendations to continue to support the child's development. Answer questions, provide information and resources, and define any terms that may be difficult to understand, such as "developmental delay," "disability," "evaluation," etc. Wisconsin Screening Resources Early Childhood: Child Find- Department of Public Instruction Your Child's Development - DCF Tip-Sheet Developmental Screening - Summary Guide - DCF Learn the Signs. Act Early. - CDC Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! - CDC Screening and Assessment Practices - Collaborating Partners Act Early Wisconsin - Waisman Center Wisconsin's Blueprint: A Comprehensive and Aligned System for Early Childhood Screening and Assessment - 3rd Edition (2016) Developmental Assessment and the Referral Process If a child's developmental screening shows that their skills are delayed compared to their typically developing peers, a more comprehensive assessment of the child's development may be recommended. Unlike a screening, a standardized assessment is a more in-depth, time-intensive look at the child's skills, with the main purpose being to see if the child meets criteria to qualify for special education services. If you are concerned about a child's development and would like to talk to someone about making a referral for a more comprehensive assessment, please contact the following depending on the age of the child: Birth to 3 - Birth to 3 Referral Agency in Your Area Age 3 to 21 - Contact your local school district and ask for the Special Education Department For more information about the referral process, visit the Department of Public Instruction's Special Education referral page If it is determined that a standardized assessment is necessary, a referral will be made to an early childhood specialist in the Department of Health Services (for children ages birth to 3 years) or Department of Public Instruction (for children ages 3 to 21 years). The following sections provide additional information about special education and the services available to children within different age ranges. For Children from Birth to Age 3 Each county in Wisconsin has a Birth to 3 Program that provides early intervention services to infants and toddlers who qualify for special education services. If a child qualifies for Early Intervention services, the special education team, including the family, will develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The development of the IFSP is based on the idea that by supporting a young child's family, you are in turn supporting the child. For this reason, the plan of services developed by the Birth to 3 team will naturally focus on goals that are important and relevant to the family (e.g., having the child learn sign language to better communicate, finding respite care for the family, finding activities that the family can attend in the community, etc.). The IFSP also contains specific information about the types of services that will be provided, where they will be provided, and who will be providing them. It's important to keep in mind that the services that are provided should take place in the child's natural environment, which means they could be delivered in the child's home, in the community, in an early childhood program, etc. For more information about assessments and special education services for children birth to age 3, please use the following link: Wisconsin's Department of Health Services - Birth to 3 Program For Children Ages 3 through 21 Each public school district has a special education department in charge of providing special education and related services to any qualifying child age 3 to 21 years. Similar to the Birth to 3 system, if a child qualifies or meets criteria for special education services, a team of people that includes the child's parents, the early childhood special education teacher, the regular education teacher, specialists, etc. will develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is similar to an IFSP in that it is a plan that contains goals to address the child's individual needs, as well as a list of services (e.g., special education, occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc.) that will be provided to help them meet their goals. The main difference between an IEP and an IFSP, is that the IEP has less of a family focus, instead shifting to supporting the child within an educational setting or program. Not all children under the age of 6 attend an early childhood program within a school building, therefore it is recommended that IEP services be delivered in the setting that the child spends the majority of their day (referred to as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)). This setting could be in a preschool, a 4K program, or a child care program. It's important that the special education team, which includes the family, discusses the different options available for service delivery. One final note, even though a child care provider is not a required member of the special education team, the family does have the right to choose who they would like to have attend their child's IEP meeting. This is something that a child care provider can discuss with the family. For more information about assessments and special education services for children ages 3 to 21 years, please use the following link: Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction - Early Childhood Special Education Additional Special Education Resources The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - Department of Education website IDEA Part C - Infants and Toddlers IDEA Part B - Assistance for All Children with Disabilities (age 3-21) If you have questions or concerns about a child's development (physical, social-emotional, or cognitive), contact: Well Badger Resource Center (formerly First Step Wisconsin) at 1-800-642-7837. Information about Early Identification/Screening, Child Find and other early childhood topics can be found at the Collaborating Partners website.