Navigate the challenges of diagnosing developmental delays in South Africa

The diagnostic process for developmental delays in South Africa

For parents of children with developmental delays, the journey to obtaining a diagnosis can be daunting and disheartening. Families often face a multitude of challenges, including financial limitations. Not knowing where to seek help or whom to turn to is at the forefront of their frustrations.

The diagnostic process in South Africa is deeply flawed, causing significant delays for families needing help for their children. Accessing basic services or specialised educational placement requires a formal diagnosis, which can take an agonizingly long time to obtain.

One of the primary issues lies in the lack of awareness in our societies. Many caregivers, early childhood development teachers, and parents struggle to recognize the signs of developmental delays.

These delays are also far too often dismissed as part of a child’s individual pace of development. Another critical factor is the scarcity of diagnostic specialists available to families.

The diagnostic consultations themselves present additional challenges for families. Evaluating a child’s development is a complex task that should encompass various aspects, including:

  • Observations of behaviour in different settings and situations.
  • Assessment of cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving skills, memory, and attention span, in diverse contexts.
  • Evaluation of speech and language skills, covering receptive language, expressive language, speech clarity, vocabulary, and comprehension of nonverbal communication cues. These assessments should be conducted in a range of settings and situations.
  • Assessment of social and emotional development, including social interactions and emotional regulation across various environments.
  • Observations or assessment sessions that capture a child’s performance in group settings, one-on-one interactions, during transitional phases, and in response to different sensory stimuli.
  • Evaluation of general interactions with others in different social settings over an extended period.
  • Assessment of motor planning skills, encompassing fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, handwriting, as well as gross motor skills involving coordination, control, and strength.
  • Evaluation of adaptive skills, which relate to a child’s daily living abilities and basic problem-solving skills.
  • Sensory processing assessment to understand how a child processes sensory information and responds to various sensory stimuli in group settings.
  • Assessment of play skills, including engagement in class or group settings, interactive play, general play skills, imaginative play, and pretend play.
  • Evaluation of academic or pre-academic skills at an age-appropriate level.
Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.