Question Parents Carefully
There are many test tools on the market to use with young children. I think it is important to understand the information that each of these tools can yield and that testing should contain a play component, a parental report component, and a standardized testing component whenever possible.
There are parent questionnaires and tools that rely solely on parent report. This would include the ASQ and the REEL-3. These tests are really informative and provide valuable information. However, since it is based on parental report we have to be careful to use only these types of tests when a parent is exhibiting denial of their child's need for help. The opposite is true as well with a parent that may underreport. This type of test is also not a great idea to administer if you notice the parent is a second language learner or may have difficulty understanding the questions asked.
I think for parent questionnaires and assessments it may be important to ask the questions and then follow up with examples of what we mean when we ask specific questions. We have to remember that the parents that we ask these questions of do not always understand the same "lingo" that we as speech therapists use.
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There also other types of tests that require standardized tasks where you have some parental report tasks and some direct testing with the child. You can imagine all of the reasons why a young child may not want to cooperate for this kind of testing. The standardized test tools may provide a general idea of the child's language age or percentile score or how they measure up to other children of the same age range. However, this information can also be misleading if the child a) refuses to cooperate or b) the parent does not quite understand what we are asking.
I have found the most success in testing a young child when I can use all three important components. Playing with a child can catch the things not caught in some direct evaluations such as eye gaze, joint attention, play, ability to transition, and initiation of gestures/sounds/words. Then I do some formal testing, such as showing a picture book or asking the child to stack blocks.
The third component to a thorough speech and language evaluation is parental report. I always ask the parent a variety of questions and allow them to tell me what might be going on for their child. I think all three of these testing approaches provide the best combination to obtain the best picture of a young child's skills. Then, in turn, can we make an educated decision about whether a child needs services or therapy or not.