What is Early Childhood Assessment?

What is the difference between standardized testing and clinical assessment?

Testing looks at what an infant or toddler can and cannot do using a standardized set of questions, procedures and methods. The results of this inquiry can be quantified. This information helps parents and clinicians understand how a child compares to a population of children who are developing normally. This "snapshot" of objectively measured skills points to developmental domains that need intervention.

A clinical assessment views all aspects of a young child's emotional, cognitive, and social abilities within the context of his/her primary relationships. Through this lens, parents and professionals see how well an infant is actually functioning in the real world (versus being compared to statistical norms). This type of qualitative evaluation provides a systematic way of looking at both structured and unstructured exchanges between parent and child in a variety of settings and situations.

BAPTA's clinicians skillfully use both standardized testing and clinical assessment, and choose the most appropriate methods to answer the referral question.

What is early childhood assessment and why is it important? 

The relationship between parent and infant is the primary force in shaping the child's future. By assessing how parent and child actually interact we gain important information about how to improve the quality of this all-important first partnership. A complete assessment allows clinicians to look at many different aspects of a child's growth including:

  • The infant's core emotional and social abilities at each stage of development
  • The motor, sensory, language, and thinking abilities of the infant at each developmental level and an analysis of how abilities interact
  • The range, depth, and stability of the infant's emotional and coping abilities at each stage of growth
  • The parent's ability to help his/her child learn and grow emotionally, socially, and intellectually

When should I consider referring families for an assessment? 

Referrals can be made in the following circumstances:

Medical/Developmental Concerns:

  • When a child is behaviorally or temperamentally challenging because of persistent crying and negative mood, over-sensitivity, hyperactivity, shyness or withdrawal
  • When infants have difficulties regulating their bodies and cannot establish predictable patterns of sleeping and eating
  • When a child is not making expected developmental milestones

Parenting/Family Issues:

  • When parents feel depressed, anxious or overwhelmed by the day-to-day challenges of care-giving? and have given up trying to relate
  • When there is a family crisis, such as illness, divorce, or death
  • When there is a pattern of neglect or abuse
  • When parent and child are "out of sync" and neither know how to relate to and enjoy the other
  • When a parent is making a major life transition (e.g. moving or returning to work) and wants assistance supporting the child to cope with the changes.
  • When there are attachment-separation problems (i.e. the child is being either under or over protected
  • When issues from the past make it difficult for a parent to see his/her child accurately

To Create A Healthy Start

  • When a family wants information about how to "fine tune" their parenting skills in order to give their child the best possible start
  • When parents are unsure what type of day-care or school would be best for their child

How does early childhood assessment help?

A developmental assessment helps parents to learn about themselves and their child. Parents are given a "map" that helps them understand their child's unique temperament, developmental strengths and needs, sensory responsiveness, and preferred ways of playing and interacting. This tool to helps them to read and understand their baby's non-verbal signals and to respond appropriately.

Parents will gain self-knowledge. They begin to develop insights into old patterns of automatic responses that are left over from their own childhood, what Dr. Selma Fraiberg called "the ghosts in the nursery". This in-depth developmental "blueprint" is an important first step in giving a child the best possible start in life.

In what other settings is parent-infant assessment helpful? 

  • Legal: Typical custody arrangements are based on the needs of older children and there is little understanding of the special needs of infants and toddlers. This type of assessment helps courts come to a decision that will facilitate the best outcome for children under three.
  • Adoption Settings: Developmental testing and assessment generates specific recommendations and to give new families the best chance for success. Adoptive parents get information that enhances the parent-child fit.
  • Day Care/ Educational Settings: Assessment helps parents make more informed decisions about environments that match the emotional, intellectual and social strengths and needs of their child. Timely assessments are an invaluable aid for parents transitioning back to work.
  • Medical Settings: When children have problems that affect normal development it is hard to assess their actual capabilities. There may be wide variability in areas of functioning that impede the smooth progression from one stage to the next. Parent-infant assessment helps parents of high-risk children more accurately understand their child's specific patterns of growth.

What about cost? 

Most insurance policies cover psychological assessment if medical necessity is established. BAPTA works closely with insurance companies to help parents obtain reimbursement. In the long run, timely assessments that generate early and accurate diagnoses of developmental problems not only create the best prognosis, but save untold future expenses.

What are the long-range benefits of parent-infant assessment? 

  • Parent-infant assessment is preventative.
  • It helps parents and professionals know when there is a developmental problem.
  • It pinpoints specific areas of strength and risk, which is the key to helping a challenging child succeed.
  • During family crises, parent-infant assessments develop realistic and supportive coping strategies, breaking through negative cycles of blame and failure.
  • In short, it helps parents give their child the best possible start in life.


Bay Area Psychological Testing Associates
1057 MacArthur Blvd. #206
San Leandro, CA 94577
Telephone (415) 296-8081

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Copyright 2002, Bay Area Psychological Testing Associates