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“Can we (and should we) diagnose very young children?  Are we racing to conclusions?”

diagnose-very-young-childrenDisorders of learning, behavior and social functioning are often subjective and therefore can be difficult to strictly define and reliably diagnose.  In the Kindergarten to the 12th-grade system, States use classification systems with labels, such as Speech Impaired, Learning Disabled, Autistic, Mentally Retarded, etc.  But that’s Kindergarten through 12th grade. What about before that?

In the field of early childhood assessment, there is general consensus that between Birth and age 5, it is quite difficult (and perhaps impossible) to accurately “classify”, “label”, or “diagnose” a very young child who presents with a developmental delay.  Therefore, in the Birth to 5 age bracket, States have largely moved to “non-categorical” systems where a child is simply deemed “eligible” or “not eligible” based on functioning in several developmental areas (e.g., Language, Motor, Cognitive, Adaptive, Social).

Will a 2½-year-old boy with a language delay go on to fully catch up by age 3½, or will he go on to have language, reading, and processing difficulties?  We don’t know.  Will a “hyperactive” 3-year-old girl go on to “settle down” by kindergarten, or will she demonstrate Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder into adulthood?  We don’t know.  One thing we know for sure, though, is that the “F.E.A.T.S. Techniques” in chapters 4 through 9 can be used to promote positive development for all children, including those with typical development and those with developmental delays or disorders.