What is Developmental Observation? Developmental observation is required in this method. Developmental observation has several forms:

Simple Developmental Observation (Unstructured): This can and should be done over several days and across settings. The Analyst observes the child at play, socializing, and solving problems encountered in the IP’s natural environments. The Analysts looks at the means of exploring, discovery and problem solving the IP uses. Observations of toy and dramatic play can be particularly revealing in the case of younger children. People have a strong tendency to reveal who they are by what they find interesting or not, and how they pursue what is interesting to them.

A related process can be done with error analysis of an older individual’s academic work and performance on tasks.  From this data, the Analysts looks to the hierarchy to identify skill clusters that match other behavioral clusters found in the stage.Skills tend to cluster along a bandwidth or range of skills in most individuals. Developmental analysts look at where the majority of skills seems to be (the “Functional range”), and the upper (“Ceiling”) and lower (“Basal”) ends of the range.

  • Basal Range: This is the range of skills already acquired and comfortably used by the IP. These skills are relatively solidly established, and are reliably used by the IP even when compromised (e.g., tired, hungry, irritated, etc.).  These skills also tend to be used in novel or challenging situations.
  • Functional Range: This is also a range of skills already acquired and fully in use by the IP, but that may not be evident under special conditions of compromise, novelty or challenge. The skills are generalized for the most part and therefore useful in most settings and most situations for the IP.
  • Ceiling Range: This refers to the ZPD. The IP may possess scattered or weakly developed skills in this range, or may only be able to do them under certain conditions or with support. Skills are unreliably produced in this range.

Structured Developmental Assessment: The Examiner exposes the person to toys and objects that children tend to play with at different stages of development. Typically, the Examiner has toys available in a play room or assessment environment for the IP to select (for older children, other objects can be used). As mentioned, the selection of objects/toys can reveal important clues about the IP’s development, as well what they do with the objects when they interact with them.

Developmental Inventories/Checklists/Profiles: These are lists of behaviors typically seen at the various stages of the hierarchy. This is best done face-to-face with an informant, using a criterion-referenced assessment tool. Informants are people that by virtue of their familiarity with the IP, can answer items on the developmental questionnaire. Typically, those are the Parent(s), Teacher(s) and often, the IP.  The most popular and well-regardedDevelopmental Inventories/Checklists have separate forms for Parents, Teachers and Child (IP).It is not a good idea to simply hand a Parent (or especially a child) a developmental inventory/checklist and just ask them to fill it out. That is because there can be (and usually is) room for different understandings of items on the test.  Since these are criterion referenced measures, the IP cannot fail it, and the score derived from the test should never be used for making any sort of decision. Used properly, a developmental checklist or inventory should not resemble a test. It is merely a tool to guide observation and to organize the data.

Caution regarding assumptions made from the data: The Analyst has to be an intelligent consumer of developmental checklists. He or she has to look at the items on the checklist to determine whether the tool has a bias towards skills that are normally taught using behavioral teaching methods. For instance, the IP may be able to tie her shoes, but the rest of her development does not match this level of skill. That might be because the skill might have been taught using behavioral shaping and chaining procedures that produce reliable but rote performance of specific adaptive skills. We want to be sure that we are measuring developmental processes, not just acquired skills.

Extreme caution regarding the reporting of Developmental Age(s): Many commercially available developmental checklists yield a “Developmental Age” from the data. Items are weighted by scores for each item that denote the level of skill achievement is concerned. For instance, an inventory item such as “names at least one color correctly” might be answered with a 0 for “never” or “not at all;” a 1 for “sometimes;” or a 2for “always.”  A total of the scores are added up and compared to scores obtained from a normative sample. The “developmental age score” equates the IP’s raw score (number of items correct or sum of the item scores) is the same as the average raw score for the normative sample of a specific age or grade. Age equivalents are written with a hyphen between years and months (e.g., 9–4 means that the age equivalent is 9 years, 4 months old). A decimal point is used between the grade and month in grade equivalents (e.g., 3.2 is the third grade, second month).Developmental age scores do not reflect developmental stages. They try to do what standard scores do – provide a score that is useful for comparison among individuals. But standard scores do this by converting data into equal intervals. So the difference between a score of 102 and a score of 105 is the same difference as any other two scores that are 3 points apart.Now consider the qualitative differences between development at 11 months and 30 months – a difference of 19 months of development. Typically developing children are vastly different people at these two ages.  Now consider the difference between two individuals where one of them is 56-4 (56 years and 4 months old) and a person who is 57-11 (a difference of 19 months) means what? These scores point out that “months of development” are not equal. It gets even worse when the tool asks you to add up and/or average the scores of different domains of development to yield a so-called age of ‘Overall Development.’ An even more egregious is the practice of taking the derived developmental age scores from various domains of development and adding them or averaging them.

Developmental Observation Tools: This involves the administration of test tasks or the presentation of specific materials to evaluate the IP’s interaction with them.  The Examiner presents specific “stimuli” to the IP and records the types of responses given by the IP.  For instance, the Examiner might present a simple 3-piece formboard puzzle (insets: circle, triangle, square) to the IP.  If the IP does not use it at all or uses it inappropriately (e.g., puts the puzzle pieces in her mouth), a score of ‘0’ might be given.  If she performs the task using random trial and error, a score of ‘1’ might be given, and if the IP places the pieces in the formboard by looking at the pieces and the inset shapes and then puts each piece in with accuracy and certainty, then a score of ‘2’ might be given. Developmental assessment should always involve the use of unstructured developmental assessment across a time interval (less than a month) and across settings (home, school, community, peers).