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Focusing on the importance of developmental assessment

Assessment isn’t just for psychologists—PAR offers a range of tools that physicians, social workers, teachers, and others will find useful.

If you’re reading this, you probably have some awareness or interest in the importance of assessment. But knowing how long waitlists can be for psychological evaluation, clinicians need to develop and encourage other professionals to engage in certain assessment practices when possible. To that end, providers who are visited by families frequently, like pediatricians or primary care physicians, or individuals with the pleasure of seeing the same children every day like teachers or school counselors, can be encouraged to administer certain assessments. Many of these individuals may not know that there are assessments they are qualified to administer, so this may be a conversation you can encourage with people in your network. Let’s highlight some top reasons that make developmental assessments both important and useful, along with some relevant PAR product suggestions to get started.  

The first highlighted reason is for the opportunity to make an early diagnosis. The American Academy of Pediatrics developed guidelines for monitoring developmental milestones and screening for any developmental delays. These guidelines help providers and parents monitor a child’s development in relation to their peers. Although comprehensive measures and evaluations are the more thorough option, screeners can be great tools for providers with large clientele and limited time. Using a quick 5-minute screening assessment can set a child and family up well for the future, as they can identify delays that may then provide access to early intervention services, including speech, physical, and/or occupational therapies—and many of those services can be free of charge. Accessing early interventions like these can help to highlight appropriate learning tools and resources that can be used to improve functioning in the school setting— for instance, prior to receiving a full evaluation.  

As such, it is not recommended to rely solely on specialists with lengthy waitlists that can be yearslong in some states. Parents and teachers can note early signs of delays in areas including language, social skills, and behavior; primary care providers and pediatricians can screen during office visits; and then referrals can be made to a specialist or for school-based evaluation, if needed.  

This can help parents advocate for their child’s needs including the appropriate levels and types of supports, accommodations, medications, and more. The appropriate level of support is often related to the level of severity of the diagnosis, as well as the child’s strengths and weaknesses. These supports ensure that a child is provided the best tools not only in their classrooms but also in social settings. Access to the appropriate services and resources can also help families establish or further improve their sense of community via local groups and organizations, allowing them to join a supportive community and allay feelings of isolation.  

One common way families are able to ensure supports are received is through the development of an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan. These documents can help hold school officials accountable for providing those appropriate levels of support, allowing students the opportunity to learn in a way that best suits their needs and helps make learning a more enjoyable experience. This can impact long-term outcomes as assistance can be provided even through college years.  

An early diagnosis is not useful if it isn’t accurate. Differential diagnosis is extremely important in the context of symptom overlap commonly seen in many developmental and psychological disorders. For example, it can be difficult for a hyperactive child to focus, but it can also be difficult to pay attention in school when you’re feeling anxious or scared. Similarly, a child with autism may frequently speak about their interests in an out-of-context manner; however, a child with ADHD–hyperactive/ impulsive presentation, who may struggle to inhibit their impulses, may do the same thing. Separately, maybe a child’s disruptive behavior isn’t solely a behavior problem but is better explained by learning or developmental delays. In these scenarios, the appropriate developmental diagnosis may provide a more comprehensive context into a child’s behavior in a way that is less judgmental and more accurate. In order to do this, mental health professionals and other diagnosticians refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to make sure they are assessing for the full constellation of symptoms for any given diagnosis, rather than only those that stand out more easily.  

At this point you may say, “Okay, all of that is well and good, but what tools are available for teachers, physicians, or social workers?” Well, you’re in the right place! PAR publishes several screeners and comprehensive measures including the PDD Behavior Inventory Screening Version (PDDBI-SV), the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function, Preschool Version (BRIEF-P), and the Social Emotional Assets and Resilience Scales (SEARS) for school-aged children.  

Check out PAR Healthcare to explore all of our published products by construct. You can also learn more about our assessments via PAR Training and take part in on-demand trainings and live, CE-eligible webinars. Connect with your clinical assessment advisor to guide you to the appropriate products for your population!  


Council on Children With Disabilities, Section on Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Bright Futures Steering Committee, & Medical Home Initiatives for Children With Special Needs Project Advisory Committee. (2006). Identifying infants and young children with developmental disorders in the medical home: An algorithm for developmental surveillance and screening. Pediatrics, 118(1), 405–420. 


  • Sadiqa is a clinical assessment advisor. She provides support to providers, hospitals, universities, and mental health clinics seeking to enhance their assessment capabilities.