Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend screening children for developmental problems by using a standardized screening tool and referring at-risk patients to early intervention (EI) or subspecialists. Adoption of guidelines has been gradual, with research showing many children still not being screened and referred.
We analyzed American Academy of Pediatrics Periodic Survey data from 2002 (response rate = 58%; = 562), 2009 (response rate = 57%; = 532), and 2016 (response rate = 47%, = 469). Surveys included items on pediatricians’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding screening and referring children for developmental problems. We used descriptive statistics and a multivariable logistic regression model to examine trends in screening and referral practices and attitudes.
Pediatricians’ reported use of developmental screening tools increased from 21% in 2002 to 63% in 2016 ( < .001). In 2016, on average pediatricians reported referring 59% of their at-risk patients to EI, up from 41% in 2002 ( < .001), and pediatricians in 2016 were more likely than in 2002 to report being "very likely" to refer a patient with global developmental delay, milestone loss, language delay, sensory impairment, motor delays, and family concern to EI.
Pediatricians’ reported use of a standardized developmental screening tool has tripled from 2002 to 2016, and more pediatricians are self-reporting making referrals for children with concerns in developmental screening. To sustain this progress, additional efforts are needed to enhance referral systems, improve EI programs, and provide better tracking of child outcomes.

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