It is said that the importance of accurate in-depth assessment of social-emotional functioning during development has important implications for public health from infancy to adulthood as it predicts and is associated with mental health, academic performance, delinquency, substance abuse and work place performance (Denham, Wyatt, Bassett, Cheverria, Knoxx, 2008). These skills according to Miyamoto (2016) are also known as soft skills or character skills as they are involved with working with others, achieving set goals and emotional regulation. When there is an impairment in the domain of social/emotional competence, children not only for psychopathology but also for multiple behaviour problems, poor school performance and drug abuse. In contrast to this, the successful development of such functioning is associated with adaptive resilience (Denham, Wyatt, Bassett, Cheverria, Knoxx, 2008). Assessing for social/emotional development is thus important in developmental psychology as it forms the basis of a child’s life in terms of their experiences, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others in different areas of functioning.
Piaget’s theory is regarded as one of the significant theories regarding how cognitive development proceeds. In his theory, Piaget (1936) views children as active participants in the learning process. Piaget also considered that new learning took place as the child interacted with the environment and with other people. These interactions highlight to us the importance of the interrelationship of these developmental domains such as social/emotional, motor skills and language/communication because it is stated that new learning (cognitive) takes place as the child interacts the environment (using motor skills) with other people (requiring social/emotional skills). Cognition refers to the ability of the child to acquire, organise and use knowledge (El-Hady, El-Azim, El-Talawy, 2017). It involves multiple classes of mental capacity for e.g. reasoning, critical thinking. Impairment in this domain is notable in down syndrome. It includes impairment in attention, concentration, learning, memory that often results in mild to profound disorders in overall intellectual functioning (El-Hady, El-Azim, El-Talawy, 2017).
Language and Communication refer to all different ways a child understands and communicates. It refers to how children perceive, understand and produce language/communication. The abilities in this domain vary according to age ranging from crying & fussing to eventually communicating with spoken sounds and words. This domain is crucial because it reflects aspects of cognitive development as we are able to understand and use language in order for us to learn. Language skills are also key to learning and for social inclusion. Impairment in this domain interferes with communication, learning and has lifelong threats to social, emotional, educational and employment outcomes.
Motor Skills Domain
When we refer to the domain of motor skills we often consider two categories namely; gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills refer to movements which include the large muscles, such as trunk muscles which help us in sitting upright and leg muscles used for walking and any activity requiring the use of the lower limbs. Poor muscle development for locomotion, delayed ability to play independently, delayed sensory development due to a decreased ability to explore the environment, this also impacts a decreased ability for social interactions. Smaller muscles such as those in the fingers or tongue enable us to use them for Fine Motor Skills such as writing, talking, respectively. The development of fine motor skills impacts task outcome and the speed of task performance. These skills also contribute to cognitive development because as the child explores their environment it enables them to learn new information about their environment.
Adaptive Skills Domain
Adaptive skills or behaviours refer to “the performance of daily activities required for personal and social sufficiency (Gilotty, Kenworthy, Sirian, Black & Wanger, 2002). These skills include the abilities needed for communication and socialisation in our daily lives (Woodman, Demers, Crossman, Warfield & Hauser-Cram, 2018). They are functional skills including sleeping, feeding, mobility, toileting and higher-level social interactions. Children who experience delays in adaptive development have difficulty in learning and acquiring these independent behaviours and skills. Delays may be associated with delays or impairments in other areas of development, including fine and gross motor skills, cognitive development, communication development, and social-emotional development.
Purpose and usefulness of assessment
According to research, the first years of life are the building blocks for children’s competencies and later outcomes and it is when critical development occurs in all domains. In middle- and low-income countries, including South Africa, there is a paucity of data on early development (Hsiao et al., 2016). This contributes to the invisibility and lack of attention to the problems of poor early development. However, despite the lack of data it is imperative for practitioners and all relevant stakeholders to continue making contribution in this field because developmental assessments are not only useful for academia and policy making, however they contribute meaningfully to the lives of ordinary South Africans as their purpose and usefulness is to: Screen, which assists in identifying children at risk. Diagnoses and Case Formulations then helps to determine the nature, severity and causes of a developmental delay or disability. These assessments are also useful for Prognosis and Prediction, to generate recommendations for possible outcomes. Developmental assessments play a significant role in the Treatment Design and Planning, this is to aid in selecting and implementing interventions that are appropriate and are contextual sensitive. Treatment Evaluation also plays a crucial part in the purpose of assessments as practitioners need to be informed about progress with regards to a child’s development in a particular domain. This evaluation allows will also allow practitioners to examine satisfaction or effectiveness of treatment/intervention. Perhaps this will also assist in ensuring that the child’s developmental challenges due to impairments/deficits are alleviated