Experts 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.
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.
- America’s children need access to pediatric subspecialists [PDF]. (n.d.). American Academy of Pediatrics.
- 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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