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Developmental and behavioral health screenings are essential for children, adolescents, and adults alike. As we move through different stages of life, our brains and bodies continue to evolve and change. This makes it important to have regular check-ins to make sure that our mental and physical health is in good shape.

Regular screenings provide an opportunity to identify any potential issues, allowing us to take action and prevent further problems. They also help us to understand our own bodies better and make sure that we are getting the care we need.

So, when should these screenings take place? Here is everything you need to know about developmental and behavioral health screenings throughout the lifespan.

Point 1 First Trimester Prenatal Screening Tests (Weeks 1-13)

These tests involve a series of screenings to evaluate the health of both mother and baby. First trimester screening tests include:

  • Ultrasound:

Ultrasounds are an imaging technique used to monitor fetal development, identify potential congenital anomalies, and estimate due dates.

  • Noninvasive Prenatal Tests (NIPT):

Noninvasive prenatal tests are done through blood tests to detect genetic conditions such as Down syndrome.

  • Hemoglobin Test:

Hemoglobin blood tests are used to check hemoglobin levels; an oxygen-carrying protein found in red blood cells.

Point 2 Second Trimester Prenatal Screening Tests (Weeks 15-20)

At this stage in pregnancy, women typically receive an additional ultrasound and may be offered additional tests such as:

  • Glucose Screening Test:

Glucose screening tests are performed via a blood test to detect gestational diabetes.

  • Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) Test:

AFT blood tests measure alpha-fetoprotein levels; a protein produced by the fetus and placenta that can indicate potential chromosomal or neural tube defects.

  • Multiple Marker Screening Test:

Multiple marker screening tests are done through a blood test to detect Down syndrome, trisomy 18, and open neural tube defects.

Point 3 Third Trimester Prenatal Screening Tests (Weeks 27+)

The last trimester of pregnancy is often the most critical stage and requires additional tests to ensure the health of both mother and baby. These tests can include:

  • Group B Strep Test:

Group B Strep Tests are done through a swab of the vagina and rectum to detect group B strep bacteria – which can cause serious illness in newborns.

  • Fetal Non-Stress Test:

Fetal non-stress tests use an ultrasound to monitor fetal heart rate.

These are just some of the prenatal screenings that parents should be aware of. It’s important to talk with your doctor or healthcare provider about which tests are right for you and when they should be done.

Some examples of genetic disorders that are commonly screened for include:

  • Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disorder caused by mutations in a gene called CFTR – which controls the production of mucus in the body. So, instead of being thin and slippery, the mucus produced by people with CF is thick and sticky. This mucus causes problems with the lungs, pancreas, and other organs.

  • Children born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, which causes physical and mental developmental delays. Most people with Down syndrome have a range of physical characteristics such as low muscle tone, small stature, and an upward slant of the eyes. Children with Down syndrome also have an increased risk of certain diseases, including heart defects and thyroid problems.

  • Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is an inherited disease that affects approximately 1 out of every 10,000 people. It occurs when a segment of the SMN1 gene is missing and can lead to progressive muscle weakness. This may cause difficulty with everyday tasks such as walking, eating, and breathing. It can also cause scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

  • Fragile X Syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes intellectual disabilities and behavioral issues. It is caused by a mutation in the FMR1 gene, which controls the production of a protein important for brain development and function. As a result, people with this disorder may struggle with communication, social interaction, and problem-solving skills.

  • Babies with Tay-Sachs Disease are born without the enzymes needed to break down certain fats in the body. This leads to a buildup of these fats in the brain and other organs, causing neurological problems. Unfortunately, most children born with Tay-Sachs do not survive past the age of 5.

  • Sickle Cell Disease is a group of inherited disorders affecting the body’s red blood cells (RBCs). People with Sickle Cell Disease have RBCs that are shaped like sickles (or crescent moons) instead of discs. This affects their ability to transport oxygen throughout the body. In turn, this can lead to episodes of pain and complications such as organ damage.

Types of Developmental Screenings

Some of the screenings that are typically done for children include:

  • Language is a key factor in a child’s development, and language delays can have a major impact on their social, emotional, and academic success. Language screenings assess how well the child understands and uses words.

    These screenings are often done during the preschool and early elementary years. During these assessments, the child may be asked to follow directions, identify objects, and use language to express their feelings. The results of these screenings can be helpful in deciding if a child needs additional support or treatment.

    In some cases, a language screening may indicate that a child has a hearing problem. If so, they will be referred to an audiologist for further testing.

  • Cognitive screenings are short, quick tests that evaluate a child’s ability to process, remember, and understand information. This type of testing looks at how well a child can concentrate and think logically.

    Typically, a cognitive test consists of answering questions, completing puzzles, and solving problems. The child’s responses can give the doctor an indication of their mental level compared to other children of the same age. If a child’s cognitive abilities are significantly lower than expected, further testing may be recommended to determine the cause.

    Sometimes, cognitive screenings can detect learning disabilities in children who are not performing well in school. By getting an early diagnosis, parents and educators can work together to develop strategies to help the child succeed.

  • Motor screenings assess the physical capabilities of a child. This includes fine motor skills (such as writing), gross motor skills (such as walking or running), and coordination.

    Issues with motor skills can affect a child’s ability to interact with their environment. For example, a child may have difficulty riding a bike or catching a ball. As you can imagine, these issues can significantly affect their quality of life.

    During a motor screening, the doctor will observe the child’s movements and note any problems. If a problem is detected, the doctor will typically refer the child to an occupational therapist for further assessment and treatment. In some cases, physical therapy may also be recommended.

  • Social and emotional screenings evaluate a child’s behavior, moods, and interactions. During this assessment, the doctor will observe how the child interacts with people and their environment. The goal is to detect any social or emotional problems that may be affecting the child’s development.

    For example, the doctor may look for signs of depression, aggression, or anxiety. If a problem is detected, the doctor can refer the child to a mental health professional for further evaluation and treatment.

    By getting an early diagnosis of social or emotional issues, parents and caregivers can find the best strategies to encourage their children to thrive.

Notable Developmental Screening Test Tools

If you’re looking for a reliable way to assess your child’s development and behavior at home, there are several screening tests available. These tools include:

  • The Ages & Stages Questionnaire is a developmental screening test designed by healthcare professionals and early educators. It relies on parents/caregivers to answer questions about their child’s development. The questionnaire covers five areas: communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and personal-social skills.

    There are different versions of the ASQ for each age group, from newborns to 5-year-olds. The results of the questionnaire give parents/caregivers an idea of how their child’s development compares to other children in the same age group.

  • The Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status is an evidence-based tool that elicits and addresses the concerns of parents or caregivers. It consists of 10 questions that address a range of developmental domains, such as communication, behavior, and social skills. The results provide a snapshot of the child’s overall development.

    The PEDS is designed for children from birth to 8 years old. It can be used to detect any delays or concerns in a child’s development that may warrant further investigation.

  • The Child Development Inventory is for children aged 15 months to six years old. It assesses the child’s physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and adaptive development in a variety of areas.

    This developmental screening consists of a 300-page booklet and includes detailed questions about the child’s development. Parents are asked to rate the child’s development in each area and provide any additional comments that may be needed. The inventory results give an overall view of the child’s development and can be used to plan any necessary interventions.

  • The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers is a screening tool designed to detect signs of autism in children between 16 and 30 months of age. The M-CHAT consists of 20 questions about the child’s behavior, language skills, and interactions with people.

    Further testing may be necessary if your child scores high on the M-CHAT. Keep in mind that a positive M-CHAT result does not necessarily mean your child has autism. It just means they should receive an additional evaluation by an expert.

Here are some common behavioral health screenings for children and adolescents:

  • Mood and anxiety screening tests are used to identify signs of depression, anxiety, or other similar problems. These screenings are performed using specialized questionnaires that assess specific symptoms related to these conditions.

    The questions on these behavioral screenings often ask your child how they feel about certain things – such as your relationships, schoolwork, or leisure activities. Questions may also assess how often they experience specific physical symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, or appetite changes.

    It’s important to answer these questions honestly, as they can help your child’s healthcare provider identify any underlying issue that may need to be addressed. Early identification of mood and anxiety issues can lead to quicker treatment, better outcomes, and improved quality of life.

  • OCD and ADHD screening tests assess a child’s attentiveness, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. These screenings consist of questions that ask about specific behaviors.

    Questions may include things like “How often do you forget things?” or “Do you have difficulty staying focused on tasks?” Other questions may assess the child’s ability to organize tasks and activities.

    The results of these screenings can provide valuable insight into a child’s development and mental health. If your child’s healthcare provider determines they are exhibiting signs of ADHD or OCD, they may recommend further testing or treatment.

  • Behavioral and social screenings are used to assess a child’s behavior in different environments. These screenings involve questions about the child’s relationships with peers and family and their ability to manage stress or frustration. Questions may also focus on the child’s activities outside school, such as hobbies, sports teams, and extracurriculars.

    The results of these screenings can help a healthcare provider understand the child’s social functioning and any potential issues they may be having. This can lead to more effective treatment plans and better outcomes.

    These screening tests can also be used to assess a child’s risk for substance abuse or other risky behaviors. For example, some screenings involve questions about alcohol, drug use, gambling, and sexual activity. The results of these screenings may indicate whether the child is at risk for developing an addiction later on in life.

  • Once you learn that your child has a potential behavioral health issue, it is critical to work closely with professionals to develop an appropriate plan. Your child’s healthcare provider will likely recommend a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and sometimes medication to address their needs.

    It is also important to emphasize the value of open communication between you and your child. You should encourage your child to talk about their feelings and any issues they may be having. Developing an open dialogue can help them understand, manage, and cope with their condition.

    Finally, remember that you are not alone in this process. There are many resources available to parents and caregivers to support children with behavioral health issues. Seeking help from professionals, support groups, and other parents can provide valuable guidance and insight.


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