Developmental evaluations are similar to neuropsychological evaluations, in that psychological tests are used to examine a child's mental abilities to inform diagnosis and management of medical conditions that affect brain functioning. However, the tests seem more like play activities than actual tests. For example, children may be asked to do puzzle-like tasks, stack blocks or find hidden toys. Because it is not natural for young children to pay attention and stay seated for long periods, these play-like activities are a way to keep their interest while still getting a sense of their thinking style.
In children under age five, mental abilities are not as distinct as they are in older children and many functions (e.g., memory, attention) cannot be accurately assessed. Furthermore, young children's mental abilities are not as stable and represent only their current abilities. Generally, young children’s mental abilities are not meant to predict their future functioning.
Abilities assessed include intelligence (or current developmental functioning), language, and visual-motor skills. In addition, a child's social and communication behavior is often assessed through a semi-structured play session.
Parents contribute a great deal of important developmental information through structured interviews and completion of questionnaires. A developmental assessment typically includes two to three sessions, each lasting one to two hours. Recommendations resulting from a developmental evaluation may refer children to state-funded early intervention programs or early childhood special education programs.