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developmental milestones

Neurodevelopmental Evaluations for Children under Age 5

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By: Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Many families are curious about neurodevelopmental testing. Neuropsychologists who specialize in working with young children are often asked about when it is appropriate to pursue an evaluation, what the evaluation process entails, and where to go.

Why Would a Young Child Need an Evaluation?

There are developmental milestones across several domains that children are expected to achieve within certain timeframes. When children are showing delays in achieving those milestones within expected age ranges, seeking an evaluation may be warranted. From birth to 5 years of age, the areas of development that are especially important to monitor include:

  • Speech and Language (e.g., use of single words/phrases, following directions)
  • Social Skills (e.g., eye contact, social smile, interest in others, imaginative play skills)
  • Motor Skills (e.g., crawling, walking, using a pincer grasp)
  • Cognition/Early Problem Solving Skills (e.g., matching shapes and objects, completing simple puzzles)

If delays in any of the areas listed above are observed, pursing an evaluation sooner rather than later is recommended, as research has shown that early diagnosis and intensive treatment are the most important factors in determining rapid progress and long-term prognosis.

What Does a Neurodevelopmental Evaluation Entail?

Within a comprehensive neurodevelopmental evaluation, the child is administered tests that look at the developmental areas listed above. Information should also be collected from parents, teachers, and other caregivers who know the child well. These evaluations help to provide a better understanding of the child’s developmental profile, including areas of relative strength and weakness. In other words, the evaluation can provide more information about where the child’s skills currently fall when compared to their same age peers. Such information can provide diagnostic clarification, as well as help to inform recommendations for services if needed.

Where to Go

There are several options for where families can pursue evaluations, each with their benefits and drawbacks:

  • Early Intervention (EI): EI is meant to support families of children birth to three years of age who have developmental delays or are at risk of developmental delays. The goal of the Massachusetts EI program is to collaboratively promote skill acquisition based on the family’s priorities and child’s individual needs. Evaluations are typically conducted within the home setting to determine the child’s eligibility for EI services. While these evaluations can provide valuable information about the child’s strengths and weaknesses, a diagnosis will not be provided.
  • Hospital-based Setting: These evaluations are structured differently depending on the hospital system. In most cases, these evaluations are interdisciplinary, meaning that they involve a team of providers from different disciplines (i.e., psychologist, medical provider (pediatrician, nurse practitioner) speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.). While outcomes of these evaluations can include diagnosis and recommendations for services when appropriate, waitlists are often long, and reports tend to be brief.
  • Independent Setting/Private Practice: Independent evaluations usually involve several visits with a pediatric psychologist or neuropsychologist, rather than with a team of providers. Similar to the hospital-based evaluations, independent evaluations can result in diagnosis when appropriate. Specific recommendations based on the child’s individual profile are offered. These evaluations tend to be more detailed and comprehensive than those conducted by EI and within hospital-based settings. Clinicians also have the option to observe the child in other settings (e.g., daycare, preschool, elementary school), as well as attend school-based meetings.

Relatedly, NESCA is currently providing evaluations for children 12 months to 3 years of age who are showing early signs of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The wait time is 1 month or less – by design –  so children who meet criteria for an ASD diagnosis can access the appropriate interventions for them. If you are interested in learning more about ASD Diagnostic Testing through NESCA’s ASD Diagnostic Clinic, please visit our website at https://nesca-newton.com/asd-diagnostic-clinic-2/ and/or complete our online Intake Form.

Related resources and links to help track developmental milestones:

 

About Lauren Halladay, Ph.D.

Dr. Halladay conducts comprehensive evaluations of toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children with a wide range of developmental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. She particularly enjoys working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and complex medical conditions. She has experience working in schools, as well as outpatient and inpatient hospital settings. She is passionate about optimizing outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities by providing evidence-based, family-oriented care.

 

If you are interested in booking an appointment for an evaluation with a Dr. Halladay or another NESCA neuropsychologist/clinician, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and the greater Burlington, Vermont region, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Early Intervention?

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Miranda Milana, Psy.D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

During the first few years of life, parents and caregivers are often tracking baby’s exciting first milestones, such as their first steps or first words. Routine well-child visits at the pediatrician’s office will often include the doctor asking what new skills you have noticed since baby’s last visit—Are they sitting unsupported yet? Crawling? Saying Mama or Dada? It can be stressful when your child is not yet meeting their milestones. It can be especially challenging when you notice they may be behind their peers at childcare or when around same-aged children at family functions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great resource to utilize as reference for what is expected of children by age. You can access more information here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html or through their developmental milestone checklist.

What are age-appropriate milestones?

At a glance, several notable milestones listed by the CDC are as follows:

6 months:

  • Recognize familiar caregivers
  • Reach for toys/objects of interest
  • Roll from their belly to their back

9 months:

  • Respond when you call their name
  • Smile/laugh in response to interactive games, such as peek-a-boo
  • Babble (mama or dada)
  • Bang objects together
  • Sit on their on

1 year:

  • Call their parent by name (e.g., mama or dada)
  • Pull themselves up to stand
  • Walk while holding on to furniture

18 months:

  • Point to show you something interesting
  • Following one-step directions
  • Imitating your actions (e.g., putting on makeup, vacuuming, hammering)
  • Walking unassisted
  • Climbing on and off couches and chairs without support

2 years:

  • Look to you for your reactions in new situations
  • Putting two words together, such as “more milk”
  • Using gestures like nodding/shaking their head
  • Running
  • Eating with a spoon

Should you have any concerns regarding your child’s development, talk to their pediatrician! Your baby may qualify for a referral to Early Intervention (EI), which can help them to gain the appropriate skills in a way that supports you, your child, and your family.

What is EI?

EI is a federal grant program that was established in order to identify children at risk for developmental delays and to help families meet their children’s needs and maximize their potential. EI serves children ages 0-3 and provides a multitude of services depending on a child’s needs. Referrals for EI can be made by caregivers and/or providers for children who are exhibiting delays in their developmental milestones OR for children who have a medical condition that places them at risk for a developmental delay. EI referrals can be made as early as birth for medical conditions, such as prematurity, low birth weight, and Down syndrome. Many children receive referrals for EI from their parents, pediatricians, and/or childcare providers when there are observable delays in meeting speech milestones, motor milestones, speech milestones, and/or social milestones.

Who qualifies for EI?

Once referred to EI, your child will likely undergo a developmental evaluation. They will qualify for services if they have a diagnosed medical condition with a risk for developmental delays OR a delay in one or more areas of development of at least 30% OR a delay in one or more areas at least 1.5 standard deviations below the norm OR there is a questionable quality of skills based on the informed clinical opinion of the multidisciplinary team. Children can also meet criteria if there is a risk for delays due to four or more child or family risk factors (e.g., NICU stay, feeding challenges, chronic illness of a caregiver, lack of social supports for the caregiver).

At the end of the day, you know your child best. If you have concerns, reach out to their pediatrician. You can also reach out to a local EI provider on your own. In MA: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/ei-program-contact-information. In NH: https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/family-centered-early-supports-services.

 

About the Author

Dr. Miranda Milana provides comprehensive evaluation services for children and adolescents with a wide range of concerns, including attention deficit disorders, communication disorders, intellectual disabilities, and learning disabilities. She particularly enjoys working with children and their families who have concerns regarding an autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Milana has received specialized training on the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Milana places great emphasis on adapting her approach to a child’s developmental level and providing a testing environment that is approachable and comfortable for them. She also values collaboration with families and outside providers to facilitate supports and services that are tailored to a child’s specific needs.

Before joining NESCA, Dr. Milana completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in the Developmental Medicine department, where she received extensive training in the administration of psychological and neuropsychological testing. She has also received assessment training from Beacon Assessment Center and The Brenner Center. Dr. Milana graduated with her B.A. from the University of New England and went on to receive her doctorate from William James College (WJC). She was a part of the Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience (CFAR) program while at WJC. Her doctoral training also included therapeutic services across a variety of settings, including an elementary school, the Family Health Center of Worcester and at Roger Williams University.

Dr. Milana grew up in Maine and enjoys trips back home to see her family throughout the year. She currently resides in Wrentham, Massachusetts, with her husband and two golden retrievers. She also enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and cheering on the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics.​

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

To book an appointment with Dr. Miranda Milana, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.