This page contains information that can help you determine whether to seek a developmental or learning assessment for your child, as well as details on developmental evaluations and important resources for parents.
Important points to keep in mind:
- If you are worried about your child’s development or learning, seek further evaluation.
- Be familiar with the laws that provide evaluations and services for your child, including timelines for completion of the process.
- Research private resources for evaluation and services.
- Contact advocacy and support groups and request written literature.
- Keep copies of all letters, evaluations and recommendations.
- Be an informed advocate for your child.
If you have a child who has been adopted or is in foster care, consider the following:
- If your child has recently joined your family (e.g. adoption or foster care), allow time for your child to adjust to his or her new home.
- If your child has a known history of difficulties, evaluations and interventions should be arranged as quickly as possible so that recommendations can be started soon after your child has become comfortable in their new home.
- For children with significant issues who are receiving ongoing interventions, it may be important to continue these therapies during the adjustment period.
- For young children who come from situations involving neglect (e.g., orphanages), rapid gains are seen in the period shortly after arrival. It is important to continue to monitor the rate of progress.
- Some children may initially have no difficulties, but problems may emerge as a child gets older and the demands increase.
- If your child’s history has risk factors for developmental issues, have a low threshold for pursuing an evaluation.
When Do You Seek an Evaluation?
- The child is not mastering skills you would expect for a child of his/her age.
- For children who come from orphanages — if there is not at least one month progress for each month in your home.
- Behavioral issues (frustration, aggression) are emerging at home and/or at school.
- The child is having difficulty with school performance, homework and/or peers.
- The child has a diagnosis or medical condition that is associated with or places them at risk for developmental issues (e.g., premature birth, Down syndrome).
What Type of Evaluation Do You Need?
Unless your child has a very specific problem (e.g., a lisp), a comprehensive evaluation is often needed to gain a full understanding of your child’s developmental diagnosis.
It’s also important to determine if there is an identifiable medical cause for your child’s developmental difficulties.
Getting a Developmental Diagnosis
Multidisciplinary evaluations look at multiple areas of development and should include some or all of the following, depending on your child’s age and difficulties:
- Developmental testing (young children)
- IQ testing and achievement testing (school age)
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Feeding evaluations
- Neuropsychological testing
- Vision and hearing evaluations (all children)
Establishing a Medical Diagnosis
The medical evaluation can be done by one or a combination of the following professionals:
- Your child’s physician (if he/she has interest and training in doing these types of evaluations)
- Developmental/behavioral pediatrician
- Pediatric neurologist
- Child psychiatrist
Where to Go for a Comprehensive Developmental Evaluation
- Hospitals with child development centers and evaluation teams
- Pediatric rehabilitation centers
- Community private practices (psychologists, learning consultants, occupational therapists, speech/language therapists etc.)
- Mandated by federal and state laws.
- Education for All Handicapped Act (PL 94-142, 1975) and Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA: PL 99-457, 1986; PL 105-17, 1997) provide evaluation for all children ages birth to 21 years and services for those with developmental or learning difficulties who meet qualification criteria.
- Evaluation and services are free and do not require a referral from a physician or insurance company approval. Parent only needs to call the appropriate agency. Evaluation may not include a medical component.
- Evaluation and services for children ages birth to 3 years usually provided in the home environment.
- Team evaluation results in Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for children who qualify.
- Children who are at risk for developmental difficulties but do not exhibit significant delays can be enrolled in a “tracking” program and should receive ongoing developmental screening.
- To qualify a child typically must exhibit 33 percent delay in one domain of development or 25 percent delay in two or more domains of development.
- The amount of services provided varies based on a child’s needs and state regulations.
- The school district is responsible for evaluating and providing special education services for children ages 3 to 21 (to receive services, children must meet state requirements).
- If a child is in Early Intervention, this program should help the child “transition” into a specialized preschool program.
- For children who have not been evaluated, are not receiving services or are receiving private therapy, the parent needs to send a letter to the principal or director of special education requesting an evaluation.
- Comprehensive testing needs to be performed within state-specified time period.
What about children who have difficulties but do not qualify for special education services?
- Section 504 – Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Appeals process and mediation
- Private resources
Learning Disabilities Association of America – 412-341-1515
National Center for Learning Disabilities – 888-575-7373
Children with Attention Deficit Disorder – 800-233-4050
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities – 800-695-0285
Council for Exceptional Children – 800-CEC-SPED
HealthyChildren.org (educational and developmental resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics)
Legislation to remember:
- Education for All Handicapped Act (PL 94-142, 1975)
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA: PL 99-457, 1986; 105-17, 1997)
- Section 504 – Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112)
Early Intervention Resources
Provides evaluation and services for children ages birth to 3 years with a diagnosis or a developmental delay.
New Jersey: To refer your child for early intervention services anywhere in the state, you must start by calling 1-888-653-4463.
Early intervention services are coordinated through each county’s Special Child Health Services:
Atlantic: 609-645-7700 x4262
Burlington: 609-267-1950 x 42882
Ocean: 732-341-9700 x 7602
Cape May: 609-465-6841
Salem: 856-935-7510 x 8479
Sussex: 973-948-5239 x 3129
Union: 908-889-0950 x 2544
Warren: 908-689-6000 x 258
New York: Early Intervention in New York has a specific intake number for each county. The numbers listed below are for Early Childhood Directions Centers (ECDC), an agency that will help to arrange referrals and evaluations for children ages birth to 5 years in New York State. ECDC provides support to families who are trying to work with a large system, but can also direct you to the appropriate Early Intervention office.
Orange: 845-565-1162 x 209
Staten Island: 718-226-6670
Special Education Resources
Special Education services are available to eligible children ages 3 through 21 years through their local school district. Contact your local board of education for specific information and to request an evaluation.
In New Jersey, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) can provide information regarding special education legislation and resources.
In New York’s Office of Special Education, Early Childhood Directions Centers can assist in accessing resources for children ages 3 through 5. For children ages 3 through 21, the local Special Education Training and Resource Centers (SETRC) at Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities can help.