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Developmental Screenings

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Children are learning new things every day by exploring their environment and interacting with you and others. Children are developing

  • physically,
  • cognitively,
  • socially, and
  • emotionally.

In fact, research suggests that 90% of your child’s brain develops by the age of five.1

Because you have your child’s best interests in mind and are seeing big changes in their development, it is normal to want to know that your child is progressing appropriately in their development. There are a variety of ways to learn about child development. For example, it is common for parents and those in a parenting role to have conversations with other parents about child development. You may ask other parents about common things like, “When did your child learn to walk?” “When did your child sleep through the night?” “Have you started solid food yet?” “What were the signs that helped you know when to start potty training?”

Another way to learn about your child’s development is to do a developmental screening. While there isn’t a formula for development that fits every child perfectly, developmental screenings are recommended and available for all children. Developmental screenings offer guidelines that parents and those in a parenting role can use to understand their child’s development and learn how they can best support their child in these rapidly changing years of growth.

This document provides information about

  • what developmental screenings are,
  • why they are important,
  • when and where they generally take place, and
  • how the information can be used to support your child’s development.

What Are Developmental Screenings?

Developmental screenings provide information about how your child is developing based on developmental milestones. Developmental milestones are predictable signs of development at specific ages.2 There are physical milestones, language and communication milestones, cognitive milestones, and social and emotional milestones.2

Physical milestones include things your child can do like

  • rolling over,
  • crawling, and
  • taking their first step.2

Language and communication milestones include things like

  • cooing,
  • babbling, and
  • imitating simple words like “no.”2

Cognitive milestones include things like

  • playing peek-a-boo,
  • looking for things they see you hide, and
  • identifying ordinary objects like a brush or a cup.2

Social and emotional milestones focus on how your child is interacting with others and expressing their emotions. Examples of social and emotional milestones include

  • expressing feelings by crying or smiling,
  • showing affection to familiar others, and
  • showing an interest in other children.2

Developmental screenings offer a way to ensure that your child is making progress on their developmental milestones. The screenings can identify needs or challenges your child might have early. They can also provide resources to help you support your child’s healthy development.3

Developmental screenings use evidence-based screening tools, which are meant to highlight your child’s strengths and to identify where your child may need extra support to meet their full potential.4

Developmental screenings do not provide a diagnosis of any disorder. They are not meant to label your child in any way. They are also not meant to judge or criticize you as a parent.

Developmental screenings take place during regular pediatric well-child visits or at a child development center, resource center, community health department, or school.4They are generally conducted by a healthcare provider, an early childhood teacher, or another trained professional and will involve you as a parent or one in a parenting role. Your involvement generally includes answering a series of questions about your child as part of the developmental screening process. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developmental screenings when your child is 9 months, 18 months, and 30 months, or whenever you have a concern about your child’s development.5

Why Are Developmental Screenings Important?

Developmental screenings are important for you and your child.

For parents and those in a parenting role, developmental screenings provide opportunities to

  • ask questions about your child’s development,
  • learn about developmental milestones,
  • learn about the resources available to support your child’s development, and
  • learn about ways you can support your child during this critical period of growth.

For your child, developmental screenings are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as an important component of their healthcare.5 Your child is developing rapidly and providing opportunities for healthy development in the early formative years can provide huge benefits for your child in the future. As many as one in four children through the age of five are at risk for a developmental delay or disability. Early identification allows communities to intervene earlier, leading to more effective and cheaper treatment during the preschool years, rather than expensive special education services in later childhood.6 When properly applied, screening tests for developmental or behavioral problems in preschool children allow improved outcomes due to early implementation of treatment.4

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “healthy development in the early years provides the building blocks for

  • educational achievement,
  • economic productivity,
  • responsible citizenship,
  • lifelong health,
  • strong communities, and
  • successful parenting of the next generation.”7

There are many resources available to support your child’s development and, if needed, help you connect with these resources and supports early.

For Montana specific information about child growth and development visit: https://dphhs.mt.gov/ecfsd/childcare/childgrowthanddevelopment.

Montana follows the U.S. Administration for Children and Families initiative known as Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! For information about the Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! initiative visit: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ecd/child-health-development/watch-me-thrive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers information on child developmental milestones and offers a free Milestone Tracker App. This App provides developmental checklists, tips for encouraging your child’s development, and suggestions on what to do if you are concerned about how your child is developing.8 More information can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/index.html.

Interested in a checklist of specific developmental milestones for your child’s age? Check out: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/Checklists-with-Tips_Reader_508.pdf

My Child Has Completed a Developmental Screening. What Happens Now?

Once your child has completed a developmental screening, the healthcare provider or other professional who conducted the screening will talk with you about what they learned about your child’s development. This is a great opportunity to be curious and ask questions. The conversation is meant to be collaborative and include sharing information and learning new information to best support your child’s healthy development.

You could ask questions like:

  • “What are my child’s strongest areas of development?”
  • “What areas of development do you think my child should work on?”
  • “In what ways can I support my child in these specific areas?”

You could also ask for clarification or more information about a specific developmental milestone. You could say, “Tell me more about the (physical/language/cognitive/social and emotional) milestones for my child’s specific age.

If during the developmental screening a need has been identified for your child, further evaluation may be recommended. This is common. There is no need to panic or worry. Many times, a need is identified during the screening, and with further evaluation, no additional services or resources are required. Recommendations for further evaluation does not mean you are doing something wrong or that your child isn’t progressing as they should.

If further evaluation is recommended, you could ask questions like:

  • “Would you please walk me through the specific results of the developmental screening for my child?”
  • “What will be the focus of further evaluation?”

Asking lots of questions will give you confidence and ease concerns or worries that you might be experiencing. It is also important to ask about what the next steps are and who will be coordinating those next steps. You could ask:

  • “Who will you be referring my child to for an evaluation?
  • “Will you schedule the appointment or should I?”
  • “When do you anticipate my child will be able to be seen?”

Further evaluation provides more specific and in-depth information about your child’s development. Similar to the developmental screening, further evaluation is an opportunity to ask questions, learn more about your child’s development, and get additional support for your child if needed. As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you will play an important role in the evaluation process and will work together with a team of experts.9

The goals of a further evaluation are to

  • better understand specific areas of your child’s development,
  • identify specific needs (cause of the issue/ source of the problem),
  • identify services (early intervention or treatment) if needed, and
  • connect you and your child with resources to help your child be their best.10


Developmental screenings provide information about how your child is developing based on age appropriate developmental milestones. Physical, language, communication, cognitive, and social and emotional milestones are all components of healthy child development and an important part of your child’s healthcare. Developmental screenings ensure your child is making developmental progress, identify needs or challenges your child might have early, and provide resources to help you support your child’s healthy development.6

To find out more information about scheduling a developmental screening for your child ages 0-3, contact your local Early Intervention provider.

To find out more information about scheduling a developmental screening for your child ages 3-5, contact your local school district.


[1] First Things First. (2019). Brain development. Retrieved from https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/.
[2] CDC. (2019). CDC’s Developmental Milestones. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/
[3] U.S. Department of Education. (2019). Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! Promoting early developmental and behavioral screening. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/watch-me-thrive/index.html
[4] Stoppler, M. (2018, June 13). Developmental screening: critical for every child. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/developmental_screening_-_critical_for_every_child/views.htm
[5] American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). Screening Recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Screening/Pages/Screening-Recommendations.aspx
[6] U.S. Department of Education. (2019). Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! Promoting early developmental and behavioral screening. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/watch-me-thrive/index.htmlCDC. (2019). Factors About Developmental Disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/facts.html
[7] Center on the Developing Child. (2019). Three Core Concepts in Early Development. Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/three-core-concepts-in-early-development/
[8] CDC. (2019). CDC’s Milestone Tracker App. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones-app.html
[9] Murray, L., et al. (2019). Development assessments: what you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.babycenter.com/0_development-assessments-what-you-need-to-know_6709.bc
[10] National Research Council. (2008). Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How? Committee on Developmental Outcomes and Assessments for Young Children, Catherine E. Snow and Susan B. Van Hemel, editors. Board on Children, Youth and Families, Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Recommended Citation: Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2020). Developmental Screenings. Retrieved from https://parentingmontana.org.


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