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Developmental screening for children

Kids develop skills in five main areas of development:

  1. Cognitive (or thinking) skills: This is the ability to think, learn and solve problems. In babies, this looks like curiosity. It’s how your child explores the world around him with his eyes, ears and hands. In toddlers, it also includes things like learning to count, naming colors and learning new words.
  2. Social and emotional skills: This is the ability to relate to other people. That includes being able to express and control emotions. In babies, it means smiling at others and making sounds to communicate. In toddlers and preschoolers, it means being able to ask for help, show and express feelings and get along with others.
  3. Speech and language skills: This is the ability to use and understand language. For babies, this includes cooing and babbling. In older children, it includes understanding what’s said and using words correctly and in ways that others can understand.
  4. Fine and gross motor skills: This is the ability to use small muscles (fine motor), particularly in the hands, and large muscles (gross motor) in the body. Babies use fine motor skills to grasp objects. Toddlers and preschoolers use them to do things like hold utensils, work with objects and draw. Babies use gross motor skills to sit up, roll over and begin to walk. Older children use them to do things like jump, run and climb stairs.
  5. Activities of daily living: This is the ability to handle everyday tasks. For children, that includes eating, dressing and bathing themselves.

Who is at risk

If your child is at higher risk for developmental problems due to preterm birth, low birthweight, environmental risks like lead exposure, or other factors, your healthcare provider may also discuss additional screening. If a child has an existing long-lasting health problem or a diagnosed condition, the child should have developmental monitoring and screening in all areas of development, just like those without special healthcare needs. 

Symptoms

There is a wide range of normal development in children. Most developmental delays in children are not serious and children eventually catch up. Even children who do have serious delays can make big improvements when treatment begins as early as possible. If you have any doubts, talk to your child's healthcare provider, and make sure you adhere to the suggested schedule for well child visits.

What you can do

Although early intervention is extremely important, intervention at any age can be helpful. It is best to get an evaluation early so that any needed interventions can get started.

If your child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves talk to your child’s doctor and share your concerns. Don’t wait.

Milestones

Preventive service at no cost

Your child’s pediatrician evaluates your child at 9, 18, 24, and 30 months during well-child visits, even if there are no concerns.

Why screening is important

Many children with developmental disabilities are not identified until they are in school, by which time significant delays might have occurred and opportunities for treatment might have been missed.

What the screening is

Developmental monitoring observes how your child grows and changes over time and whether your child meets the typical developmental milestones in playing, learning, speaking, behaving, and moving.

Your child will get a brief test, or you will complete a questionnaire about your child.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on any delays noted by your child’s pediatrician.