Clinical Evaluation of Child Development

It is necessary to have a good understanding of usual developmental milestones and red flag alerts for prospective developmental delays. Eliciting parental concerns, taking a relevant developmental history, observing and assessing child development, performing relevant physical examinations, planning investigations, and accessing local services where further assessment or intervention is required are all required competencies.

Clinical Evaluation

Clinical evaluation and examination of children with behavioural issues necessitates considering their physical, emotional, behavioural, and social development and significant environmental variables. Differential diagnosis involves the potential of organic and developmental illnesses with behavioural traits, for which developmental markers might help.

The Developmental Examination

During the evaluation process, a developmental examination comprises obtaining a history and examining the child's developmental, interactional, and plays abilities.

  • History-Taking

  • Observation and Interactive Assessment


In addition to the family history relevant to the family and social environment, prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal histories are necessary. Questioning parents or carers about broad areas of function provokes concerns. It helps professionals concentrate on a more extensive history and evaluation. Concerns about the kid can be validated by information from others, such as teachers or healthcare personnel. Parents can provide a trustworthy history when given open-ended questions and asked to cite examples of behaviours. They are good at recalling whether or not they had worries and what those issues were.

Focusing inquiry on transition moments, such as starting at a nursery or other significant occasions, will help parents remember developmental accomplishments. Parental observations of behaviour (for example, 'he will bring his shoes only if they are visible') are more accurate than parental interpretations of behaviour (for example, 'he understands everything I say').

Parental perspectives on the cause of developmental problems must be obtained, reassuring parents about any unfounded fears that they are somehow responsible - for example, maternal depression may have resulted in autism. Other forms of parental misunderstandings about causality can also be rectified. Independent investigation can help determine the rationale for any obstetric intervention (e.g., foetal discomfort), the baby's status upon delivery, and any history of neonatal fits.

For the children under 24 months old, gestational age should be determined and modifications made when judging age-appropriate behaviour. The current health of the kid, as well as any history of significant illness, may be essential and should be determined.

Observation and Interactive Assessment

Setting the Stage 

Providing an appropriate selection of age-appropriate toys will allow assessment of relevant domains, such as the child's abilities to copy behaviour (using a rattle), understand cause and effect relationships (using a pop-up toy), define objects by using (hairbrush), symbolic understanding (use of doll, tea set), fine eye-motor coordination (use of bricks, cubes), language and play (toys and pictures).

Observing the Child

Free play observations and semistructured assessments give a relevant and credible assessment of children's skills. A fundamental principle of developmental assessment is to examine what the kid accomplishes and how he or she does it. As a result, both the quality of replies and the amount of achievement should be examined. Various standardised materials are available for collecting specific normative data for diagnostic or monitoring purposes. The child's attention, emotional condition, and initiations and reactions must all be observed. Any changes in function and behaviour as task complexity increases, dealing with the shift from nonverbal to language-based activity, and changes in performance as assessment time increases should be recorded.

Clinical Decision-Making and Severity of Developmental Delay

Any developmental delay in any domain equal to 50% or less of the predicted milestones at a given chronological age is always significant and necessitates additional evaluation. Children with less severe ('moderate') developmental delays may or may not have a developmental condition. The delay is more likely to be serious if it is global (across many domains, including language and cognition) or related to other essential findings or risk factors in the history and examination.

If a neurological examination reveals aberrant physical findings, such as microcephaly or macrocephaly, immediate additional research is required. The background of a complete social, familial, and medical history, as well as a physical examination, will assist in determining whether to watch and wait, investigate immediately, or send on to other experts for further assessment and action.

Planning Medical Investigations

Part of the duty for identifying a kid with a developmental disability is to evaluate any potential contributory medical factors and the presence of any related or worsening conditions, such as hypothyroidism in Down syndrome or hearing loss coexisting with autism.

Further studies should be decided based on the possibility of a problem, the dangers of a missed diagnosis, the advantages of early detection (e.g., genetic guidance), and the implications for parental planning and coping. There should be a low barrier for requesting hearing or vision tests.

The kind of developmental problem and accompanying findings from the history and examination will guide the investigations. The diagnostic yield is highest when there is a history of global developmental delay and physical abnormalities on examination, and it is lowest when there are isolated developmental difficulties.

The introduction of more comprehensive genetic screening tests, such as microarray-based comparative genomic hybridisation (array CGH, or aCGH), has resulted in a significant increase in positive yield and many 'false positives' in the form of benign DNA rearrangements detected by aCGH.

Developmental Diagnosis and Management

Evaluating a child's developmental ability necessitates paying attention to elements that may impact a child's performance, such as anxiety or impulsivity, which may indicate the need for a repeat assessment. The influence of social and biological risk factors and functional challenges in everyday life are also significant. Despite no developmental delay, therapy or other intervention may be necessary.

A good inter-agency liaison can give extra information about the kid's conduct in multiple contexts, especially when the child has complicated needs. This may reflect worries about a child's safety or care. Early consultations with experienced colleagues and an inter-agency strategy are critical for identifying and preventing possible kid risks. Finally, a detailed management plan is necessary, which includes referrals and additional investigations, a review date, and the designation of a lead/key worker for the family.


Clinical examination of children with behavioural issues involves considering physical, emotional, behavioural, and social development and environmental variables. It involves obtaining a history, observing and assessing child development, performing relevant physical examinations, and planning investigations.

Setting the stage, observing the child, clinical decision-making and severity of developmental delay, planning medical investigations, and evaluating any potential contributory medical factors are essential for identifying a kid with a developmental disability. Developmental Diagnosis and Management involves assessing a child's developmental ability, paying attention to risk factors, early consultations with experienced colleagues, and a detailed management plan.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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