Tune In to Find Out if Your Child Is Developing Normally
March 28, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Television may turn out to be a useful tool for
assessing development in young children, according to an observational study
published in the March 25 issue of the British Medical Journal. Some
British researchers say it may help pediatricians determine if a child who is
not yet talking at 18 to 24 months has a learning problem. But other
pediatricians are not convinced of its value.
"One thing [we] are concerned about is learning difficulties because
they are not going to go away," lead author Ben Lloyd, MD, tells WebMD.
"That is an important diagnosis. But trying to assess the abilities of a
child who is not talking is quite difficult, so you need some good questions
[to ask the parents]." Lloyd is a consultant pediatrician at the Royal Free
Hospital in London.
One of the questions Lloyd and his colleagues have started using is,
"Does your child recognize the picture of a cat, dog, or baby on the
"In order to [recognize a cat, dog, or baby on TV], I think you have got
to be of reasonable intelligence and you have got to want to communicate,"
he says, adding that they chose cats, dogs, and babies because those appear to
be the first things young children recognize.
To determine at what age most developmentally normal children recognize
those images, Lloyd questioned the parents of almost 800 children between the
ages of 8 and 23 months old, as well as the parents of 26 18-month-old children
with Down's syndrome.
If a parent responded that their child did indeed recognize the television
image of a cat, dog, or baby, they were asked, "How do you know?" The
researchers concluded that a child recognized the image if he or she named,
imitated, or pointed at the image. Becoming excited or patting the screen was
not considered sufficient evidence.
"We identified that by 18 months, 96% of the children are reported to
recognize a cat, dog, or baby on the television screen," says Lloyd. By
contrast, only 19% of children with Down's syndrome were reported to identify
those images at 18 months.
Lloyd asks parents if their child recognizes these TV images as one of
several questions asked to evaluate a child's development when there is a
developmental concern. "I ask other questions, like, 'Does she help around
the house? Does she follow simple instructions?'" he says.
One advantage of the TV image recognition question is that parents
understand it and "they can answer it clearly." Whereas, Lloyd finds
that other developmental questions asked of parents, like "Does he follow
instructions?" are not always easy for them to answer.
"As a technique, [recognition of TV images] is not a particularly
sophisticated one," Renee Wachtel, MD, tells WebMD in an interview about
the study. "They asked parents at what age they thought their child could
recognize these different things on television, which is really quite different
than actually testing the children to see what they could, in fact, recognize.
So it is very second hand in that regard." Wachtel is a professor of
pediatrics and director of developmental and behavior pediatrics at the
University of Maryland School of Medicine.