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Study finds gaps in screening of kids for developmental delays

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HealthDay News
A study found fewer than one-third of U.S. children under 3 years old receive recommended screening for developmental problems. Photo by Solis Images/Shutterstock
A study found fewer than one-third of U.S. children under 3 years old receive recommended screening for developmental problems. Photo by Solis Images/Shutterstock

SATURDAY, July 14, 2018 -- Doctors are supposed to screen young children to see if they're learning basic skills. But only 17 percent of kids get this critical testing in some places in the United States, a new study finds.

Overall, fewer than one-third of U.S. children under 3 years old receive recommended screening for developmental problems, said researchers at John Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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And they found significant differences between states, with Oregon at the top and Mississippi at the bottom.

"Even in the best states, only about half of children are receiving screening and surveillance. We still have a long way to go," said study co-author Christina Bethell. She directs the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening to identify developmental delays in areas such as small motor skills ("can she hold a crayon?") and large motor skills ("is he walking?").

Social and behavioral skills, such as talking, should also be assessed at an early age.

For the study, the researchers analyzed 2016 data and found that only 30 percent of children ages 9 months to 35 months had received a developmental screening in the past year. And only 37 percent had received developmental surveillance.

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Fewer than 1 in 5 had received both screening and surveillance, while just over half had received neither, the researchers said.

Screening was defined as asking a parent to complete a questionnaire about developmental observations or concerns. Surveillance was defined as asking parents about developmental concerns.

State differences in rates of screening and surveillance were as high as 40 or more percentage points. For example, screening rates were 59 percent in Oregon and 17 percent in Mississippi. Surveillance rates were 61 percent in Oregon and 19 percent in Mississippi.

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Identifying developmental delays at an early age is crucial in providing help before school age, when such problems can affect learning and grades and have lifelong consequences, according to Bethell.

"We need to create comprehensive systems to optimize early child development in the first 1,000 days of life, which we know is dramatically important for child and population health," Bethell said in a school news release.

The study was published online July 9 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on developmental delays.

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