Objective: To determine whether parents' estimates of children's developmental ages can function as a prescreening technique.
Design and participants: Parents of 234 children from birth to 77 months of age seeking well-child care in pediatric offices were queried in two separate studies. In the first study, parents were asked to give an estimate of their child's overall developmental age and, in the second study, to estimate ages in each of six developmental domains. Children were administered a range of screening measures of intelligence, speech-language, and adoptive behavior.
Results: The overall age-estimate, if less than chronologic age, was 75% sensitive to likely developmental problems and, if equal to or greater than chronologic age, was 90% specific in identifying children likely to have typical development. Age estimates for each developmental domain were 81% sensitive to likely developmental problems if less than chronologic age in the domains of fine motor, language, grass motor, or behavior, and 62% specific if equal to or greater than chronologic age. Estimates at or below chronologic age in receptive language or personal-social domains were 90% sensitive and 43% specific in identifying likely behavior problems. There were no differences in the accuracy of parents estimates on the basis of children's age, gender, race, parents' level of education, or parenting experience.
Conclusion: Parents' overall age-estimates provided a sensitive and specific indicator of global developmental status, but insufficient information about strengths and weaknesses to enable focused referrals for services. In contrast, discrete patterns of age estimates in each developmental domain sensitively discriminated children with developmental versus behavioral problems, although specificity was limited. Age estimates appear to be a potentially helpful method for identifying a subset of children in need of thorough screening, although further research is needed on a larger sample given diagnostic rather than screening tests.