What would an evaluation for developmental delays or ASD look like?

The idea of getting an Early Intervention evaluation for your child can be intimidating, especially since she is so young. Early Intervention exists to serve children under three years old for a reason, though – for children who can use EI, getting started early on can lead to improved outcomes. And for children who don’t qualify for EI because they don’t need that help, spending an afternoon (or morning or evening) in an evaluation that’s mostly just playing in a familiar environment is hardly even going to register.

Before

It isn’t necessary to have a doctor’s referral for Early Intervention, but it can be helpful to talk through your concerns with someone with a medical background who’s familiar with your child, like her pediatrician, before making that step, especially if you have a strong relationship with them already. When you make an appointment with Early Intervention specialists, they’ll work with you to figure out the environment and time of day that will work best for your child’s evaluation, and will show the EI specialists what you’re concerned about.

This might mean an evaluation in your home, at your child’s child care center, or at a local park or somewhere else that she feels comfortable. It might mean taking her napping schedule into account to make sure she’s at her best, or waiting until after she has had her lunch to cut down on crankiness.

When you’re setting up an Early Intervention appointment, you’ll also talk about how your child is doing and what, specifically, you’re concerned about. This will give the Early Intervention coordinators a better sense of what kind of experts to send to your child’s evaluation.

Evaluation

When evaluation day comes, you can expect to see two or more Early Intervention professionals. There will be one expert there to make a general evaluation, and then another for each area of development you or your child’s doctor are especially concerned about. They’ll both probably begin the evaluation by talking to you, and then when it comes time for them to interact with your child, they may choose to interact with her together or separately.

The way these professionals interact with your child will depend on how old she is, and may also depend on what they’re evaluating for. They’ll probably play with your child, engage with her in whatever activities she is drawn to, and introduce new activities that will help them determine where your child may be struggling.

Your part in this process is an important one. Both you and the professionals there to evaluate your child’s behavior and activities have their strengths. Their strengths are their expertise in child development generally, and in certain subjects in particular, but you are the person in the room who is an expert on your child. They can watch the way she acts, and draw their conclusions of what that might mean, but you’re to one who knows if this is how she usually acts, and how this fits into the pattern of the other things she does when these observers aren’t around. You’re also there to help your child feel more comfortable, and to reassure her in the presence of these unfamiliar people. You can also guide her towards activities that will show what you’ve been concerned about, or activities that will show off her strengths.

After

You’ll meet with representatives from Early Intervention to go over the results of the evaluation, and so you’ll be able to clarify and ask questions. From there, they may provide recommendations for services, therapies, or additional tests. You may access services they recommend through the Early Intervention program, or they may make recommendations for visits with specialists.

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