A developmental specialist is a medical professional that is an authority in assessing the physical, medical, or emotional development of an individual. A referral to a developmental specialist is usually sought out when there is concern about the development of a child. While developmental specialists are often thought of in terms of aiding children, there are adult and teenage developmental specialists as well.
As children mature and grow they are expected to learn and accomplish particular skills. These skills are referred to as milestones. Milestones indicate how a child is responding to, and learning about, the world around him. For example, a child will normally begin to walk between ten and sixteen months of age.
Generally, children master milestones within the predictable age range, while others are delayed, or fail to achieve certain milestones at all. Investigation may be warranted when a child does not reach particular milestones within a typical time frame. Disorders like Down syndrome or autism, prematurity, infection, and hearing loss are some examples of what can cause a developmental problem.
Qualifications of a developmental specialist vary. Basic requirements include completion of a bachelor or masters degree in childhood development, special education, psychology, or social work. A license in early childhood development is sometimes required by the employing facility.
Another kind of developmental expert is a “Developmental Pediatrician.” These pediatricians are medical doctors that specialize in both pediatrics and childhood development. They usually work with children who have more severe developmental problems that may affect their health.
Assessment and advisement are the primary goals of a developmental specialist. The most common assessments surround the following categories: gross motor skills, fine motor skills, muscle tone, language development, and play. Usually, the specialist will ask the parent or guardian to complete a questionnaire about the child. The specialist will then proceed by directing and observing the child complete a series of tasks. The assessment process can take one or two sessions, with a session lasting anywhere from an hour to two hours.
Once observation and assessment are complete, the developmental specialist will suggest a treatment plan. Patients who are experiencing delays in one or two areas may require specialized therapy until the problem has been resolved. For example, a child delayed in language may go through speech therapy for a short period of time without any need of future services. However, it is a good idea to keep in mind that each individual is unique and may require more assistance in certain areas.
When multiple areas of development are delayed, or never achieved, it may denote a disorder or syndrome that will require additional specialists. When this occurs, the developmental specialist will typically spend time educating the family on the disorder or syndrome. Recommendations and referrals for other services are also given to the family. Developmental specialists are often thought of fondly because they are able to provide families with the encouragement and resources they need.