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OBJECTIVE: To make evidence-based recommendations concerning the evaluation of the child with a nonprogressive global developmental delay. METHODS: Relevant literature was reviewed, abstracted, and classified. Recommendations were based on a four-tiered scheme of evidence classification. RESULTS: Global developmental delay is common and affects 1% to 3% of children. Given yields of about 1%, routine metabolic screening is not indicated in the initial evaluation of a child with global developmental delay. Because of the higher yield (3.5% to 10%), even in the absence of dysmorphic features or features suggestive of a specific syndrome, routine cytogenetic studies and molecular testing for the fragile X mutation are recommended. The diagnosis of Rett syndrome should be considered in girls with unexplained moderate to severe developmental delay. Additional genetic studies (e.g., subtelomeric chromosomal rearrangements) may also be considered in selected children. Evaluation of serum lead levels should be restricted to those children with identifiable risk factors for excessive lead exposure. Thyroid studies need not be undertaken (unless clinically indicated) if the child underwent newborn screening. An EEG is not recommended as part of the initial evaluation unless there are historical features suggestive of epilepsy or a specific epileptic syndrome. Routine neuroimaging, with MRI preferred to CT, is recommended particularly if abnormalities are found on physical examination. Because of the increased incidence of visual and auditory impairments, children with global developmental delay may undergo appropriate visual and audiometric assessment at the time of diagnosis. CONCLUSIONS: A specific etiology can be determined in the majority of children with global developmental delay. Certain routine screening tests are indicated and depending on history and examination findings, additional specific testing may be performed.


Journal article



Publication Date





367 - 380


Algorithms, Child, Cytogenetic Analysis, Developmental Disabilities, Diagnosis, Differential, Electroencephalography, Evidence-Based Medicine, Female, Fragile X Syndrome, Hearing Disorders, Humans, Lead Poisoning, Nervous System, Childhood, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Metabolism, Inborn Errors, Rett Syndrome, Thyroid Diseases, Tomography, X-Ray Computed, Vision Disorders