Long Wait Times for Child Development, Behavior Specialists

Father and child playing outsideExperts advise parents who notice unusual behavior or developmental delays in their children to seek prompt help from specialists. According to a study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, a shortage of specialists means families who heed this advice often face long delays. The study also found disparities in treatment between Spanish and English speakers.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), long wait times for specialists are common. The AAP reports an average ratio of 100,000-200,000 children per subspecialist.

Measuring Child Specialist Wait Time Estimates

The study used a “mystery shopper” model in which a bilingual person called a developmental pediatrics program listed in a public directory and associated with a major hospital. The caller provided a simulated story of a child in need of developmental assistance.

The caller reached 104 of 140 programs. Ninety programs met the study’s inclusion criteria, and 75 of those provided an average wait time before an appointment. The average wait time across all programs was 5.4 months.

The caller then contacted the 75 programs again looking to request an appointment in Spanish. The caller reached 62 programs within 24 hours of the initial call, but only 55% offered a wait time estimate. Thirty-one percent offered no language accommodations. This suggests Spanish speakers may have more difficulty accessing developmental and behavioral programs for their children.

Long Wait Times May Mean Delays in Development

Though a Spanish language caller was less likely to receive accommodations or a wait time estimate, there were no statistically significant differences in wait times offered to Spanish- and English-speaking callers.

A wait time of 5.4 months is a significant period of time in the life of a child. Babies can transition from not making any noise at all to babbling and saying their first words in this time frame. When access to information and treatment is delayed, a child in need of developmental assistance may experience further developmental delays. The study’s authors emphasize the importance of improving and increasing access to developmental specialists so parents and guardians can ensure any prevalent health concerns are addressed as soon as possible.


  1. America’s children need access to pediatric subspecialists [PDF]. (n.d.). American Academy of Pediatrics.
  2. Jimenez, M. E., Alcaraz, E. M., Williams, J., & Strom, B. L. (2017). Access to developmental pediatrics evaluations for at-risk children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. doi:10.1097/dbp.0000000000000427

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  • Asa


    April 10th, 2017 at 11:17 AM

    This is all too common. Those with the financial means get everything that they need in a timely manner while the rest of us are forced to wait until something comes along for us or a time opens up when someone is willing to see us.

    Believe me, I wish that I had the access to the things that other more financially comfortable families have but I don’t, but that doesn’t seem like it should be a reason that I have to await care for myself and loved ones. This system is seriously messed up.

  • colby


    April 12th, 2017 at 6:52 AM

    It might be something as simple as there are not enough providers in more rural areas. Not that this makes the problem any better but at least you know that this is not discriminatory in nature.

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