SFP_6424When staff at the Bay Point First 5 Center observed that a two-year-old boy attending classes wasn’t speaking at all, they broached the subject with his mom. She quickly replied, “He’s fine. I know what he needs.”

Primary caregivers, such as parents, know their children best. Talking to a family member who is uncomfortable about getting developmental screening for their child can be a delicate dance. Here’s how staff at the First 5 Center approached it.

The First 5 team first acknowledged that the mother is the expert on her child. The staff explained that developmental screening is one way to help her learn more about her child’s development. They also suggested she enroll her son in a literacy and sign language class to boost his language and speech. She declined the screening but tried the class.

As time passed, the boy began to show signs of frustration and aggression, which often occur when children have difficulty communicating their needs. The staff suggested screening again. She still declined. Knowing that she wasn’t ready to take this step, they suggested he have his hearing tested. The appointment with the doctor did not go well, as the boy was uncooperative and did not follow instructions.

SFP_6414Finally, the mother came back crying. She said she couldn’t take it anymore. Her son was completely out of control. She agreed to developmental screening, and answered a series of questions to determine how her son was progressing on developmental milestones. Scores in the white indicate milestones are being met, gray indicates developmental areas that should be checked and monitored, and black shows children are in need of a more formal assessment. In this little boy’s case, every section came back black except for one.

The boy was placed immediately in a play therapy class and referred for assessment. Within a month, he was receiving full-day early intervention services at the Lynn Center, and may be on the autism spectrum. The mother is still going through many emotions, but now tells every parent she meets to get developmental screening for their children.

Some lessons learned from situations like these for organizations implementing developmental screening:

  1. Parents are their child’s first teacher. Primary caregivers, such as parents, know their children better than anyone else and are their child’s first teacher. Keep these two elements in mind.
  2. Provide resources. If families refuse to screen their child, offer other resources, such as classes at the First 5 Centers or connect them to the Help Me Grow Specialist at 211.
  3. Be understanding of a family’s process. There are complex reasons why families might choose not to screen their child. Effective partners embrace this reality and realize it is a process.
  4. Be patient and try again. Primary caregivers may be more open to it another time. Just be there.
  5. Demonstrate the importance of understanding child development. Stress that developmental screening is one way to learn more about their child’s development; not just identify if something is wrong. Rather than pushing the issue of screening, consider providing information about child development.
  6. Timing is important. 90% of brain development occurs in during the first five years of a child’s life. This is when services can benefit children most. It’s okay to let parents know this.

Wanda Davis is the Early Interventions Program Officer at First 5 Contra Costa.