Ah, the whirlwind of activities surrounding a child’s birthday. My daughter just turned eight. Parties, presents, cake–check, check, check. Spoiled by the grandparents–double check. She finally has the rollerblades she’s been begging for, which were quickly followed by bruises on elbows and knees. (Note to self…protective pads are needed even in a roller rink!) The only thing left on our birthday to-do list is her annual well-child visit at the pediatrician’s office.
Except for the periodic shots, my daughter actually enjoys her well-child visits. She likes to perform, so when the doctor asks her questions, sees if she can demonstrate various poses, and has her read numbers off a chart, she gladly shows off her skills. This is great fun!
Little does my praise-seeking child realize how important this relatively simple checklist is to make sure she’s growing and developing on track. Regular screenings help catch areas of concern early, enabling parents and doctors to address concerns before they develop further and when they are often the most responsive to intervention. Can you say nip it in the bud? Case example: it was during a well-child exam that we realized the wax-producing factories that are my daughter’s ears were interfering with her hearing, which ended up impacting her speech. If it wasn’t for her failed hearing test at age 5, we wouldn’t have known about the problem until much later. She would have experienced difficulties and frustrations in kindergarten and beyond, and we would have ended up spending much more money on speech therapy.
Detecting problems early is a no-brainer. It should come as no surprise that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children receive periodic developmental screenings during well-child visits. What is alarming is that many young children aren’t getting them. A recent study found that more than half of pediatricians caring for children under age three failed to use a formal developmental screening tool as part of their routine care. This is especially concerning for kids with social and emotional or behavior concerns, because when doctors rely on their clinical judgment alone they have been found to miss more than 50% of children with serious emotional and behavioral disturbances. Missed identification leads to missed opportunities to intervene early, before concerns become more serious and harder to address.
Thankfully, the need to improve screening rates in Texas has been recognized by folks working to improve the healthy development of children. The Texas Council on Children and Families and the Raising Texas Initiative are two state efforts working together to develop strategies to help ensure all Texas children receive recommended screenings so issues can be identified and addressed as early as possible. It’s encouraging to have the state focus attention on the issue, but it will take public will to have these strategies implemented.
So as you plan the birthday celebrations in your household, remember to make that appointment for your child’s well-check exam. During your visit, talk to your doctor about any concerns you have, and check out the “During the Visit” section of this Health Care Visit Checklist for some tips. If you’re unsure if your child is receiving a standardized developmental screening as part of the routine visit, ask your doctor for one. Consider it part of your child’s birthday gift!
Written by: Josette Saxton