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What is the Denver Developmental Screening Test?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The Denver Developmental Screening Test (DDST) is a test designed for use in initial screening of children to identify those with developmental problems so they can be referred for more precise evaluation and intervention, if appropriate. The test was developed and introduced in Denver, Colorado in the 1960s and is one of the most widely used developmental screening tests. Health care professionals can administer the test in clinical or office settings, and it takes between 10 and 20 minutes.

This test is intended for use in children between one month and six years of age. The exact age of the child is calculated so the administrator can select age-appropriate tasks designed to assess the child's personal and social skills, facility with language, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. In addition to evaluating the child directly, the test administrator also asks the parents a series of questions to collect more information about how the child behaves at home.

If a child performs consistently below the standard of children in a similar age range, the Denver Developmental Screening Test will suggest the child may have a developmental problem. It is not designed to be specific, with lengthier and more detailed screening needed to evaluate children with test scores of concern. If a child performs at or above the expected level, the child is not considered to be at risk for developmental issues.

One criticism of the original Denver Developmental Screening Test was a distinct class and race bias, a common problem with standardized tests in general. Future editions were redesigned to address this problem, making the test more widely applicable and sensitive. One consequence of this has been an increased incidence of false positives on the test, something for parents to be aware of. In other words, just because a child's results on the this test are believed to be abnormal, it doesn't mean the child has a developmental problem; more testing is needed.

This test is usually readily available and may be administered multiple times as a child ages to collect information about the course of the child's development. If more screening is needed, it may be offered in the same facility, or the child may need a referral to another location. When parents are told that additional screening is recommended after the Denver Developmental Screening Test is administered, they should be aware that the practitioner may not have additional information and cannot provide a diagnosis or even a guess about what the issue might be.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Jun 29, 2013

@feruze-- I agree. If the tests was so inaccurate and ineffective, it wouldn't be in use for so long. By the way, the test is done at age 4 months, 10 months and three years. So it's not a one time thing.

By bear78 — On Jun 28, 2013

@turquoise-- Of course you can opt out of it.

I agree that there are some issues with the Denver Development Screening Test. Certain portions are biased toward specific cultures, but those portions make up a very small part of the test. So I don't think that a healthy child who is developing right will have any issues passing this test.

I had two kids take the DDST and they passed without issues.

By turquoise — On Jun 27, 2013
Can parents opt out of the screening test for their children?

I have two kids under the age of six and I don't want them to be screened with this test. I dislike cognitive tests in general, especially this early on in a child's life. I don't think this test is reliable and I don't want any labels put on my children.

It's one thing to diagnose a child who has severe developmental problems and who needs special care and education. It's another thing to label children as slow or fast developers based on an unreliable test.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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