By pointing out the importance of standardized screening and communication between clinicians and caregivers, a pair of new studies from CHOP's PolicyLab can help physicians and families better support children with developmental disorders.

James Guevara, MD, MPH, director of Interdisciplinary Initiatives at PolicyLab, led a study of developmental screening that was published recently in Pediatrics. The investigators sought to determine how effective standardized early childhood developmental screening in identifying developmental delays, and in referring children with those delays.

From December 2008 to June 2010, the research team surveyed 2,103 children, most of whom were African-American and from families making less than $30,000 a year. The patients were randomized into three groups: one receiving developmental screening with office support, another receiving developmental screening without office support, and a group participating in non-standard "surveillance" conversations with clinicians.

The study found that not only is standardized screening feasible among urban populations, but also that it is twice as likely to identify developmental delays than non-standard surveillance. However, standardized screening does not ensure that children in need will receive aid, as only 58 percent of the children studied were referred to early intervention services.

Following these findings, a separate study by PolicyLab's Manuel Jimenez, MD, MS, examined barriers to early intervention (EI) evaluation among referred children. EI programs provide a variety of support for children with disabilities and developmental delays, often at little or no cost to families.

However, up to 90 percent of eligible children do not receive EI services, according Dr. Jimenez's study, which was published in Academic Pediatrics. The researchers conducted interviews with parents of referred children and with EI staff members to better understand why some families forgo services.

Dr. Jimenez and his team concluded that effective communication between physicians and caregivers — that addresses practical concerns and reinforces the need to address issues — may improve EI referral success. Overall, both studies can help early intervention staff and physicians make sure that children with developmental needs receive the support they need to grow and succeed.