Melissa Gladstone and colleagues evaluate the reliability and validity of an assessment tool for evaluating child development in rural African settings.
Although 80% of children with disabilities live in developing countries, there are few culturally appropriate developmental assessment tools available for these settings. Often tools from the West provide misleading findings in different cultural settings, where some items are unfamiliar and reference values are different from those of Western populations.
Methods and Findings
Following preliminary and qualitative studies, we produced a draft developmental assessment tool with 162 items in four domains of development. After face and content validity testing and piloting, we expanded the draft tool to 185 items. We then assessed 1,426 normal rural children aged 0–6 y from rural Malawi and derived age-standardized norms for all items. We examined performance of items using logistic regression and reliability using kappa statistics. We then considered all items at a consensus meeting and removed those performing badly and those that were unnecessary or difficult to administer, leaving 136 items in the final Malawi Developmental Assessment Tool (MDAT). We validated the tool by comparing age-matched normal children with those with malnutrition (120) and neurodisabilities (80). Reliability was good for items remaining with 94%–100% of items scoring kappas >0.4 for interobserver immediate, delayed, and intra-observer testing. We demonstrated significant differences in overall mean scores (and individual domain scores) for children with neurodisabilities (35 versus 99 [p<0.001]) when compared to normal children. Using a pass/fail technique similar to the Denver II, 3% of children with neurodisabilities passed in comparison to 82% of normal children, demonstrating good sensitivity (97%) and specificity (82%). Overall mean scores of children with malnutrition (weight for height <80%) were also significantly different from scores of normal controls (62.5 versus 77.4 [p<0.001]); scores in the separate domains, excluding social development, also differed between malnourished children and controls. In terms of pass/fail, 28% of malnourished children versus 94% of controls passed the test overall.
A culturally relevant developmental assessment tool, the MDAT, has been created for use in African settings and shows good reliability, validity, and sensitivity for identification of children with neurodisabilities.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Babies can do very little when they are first born. But, gradually, over the first few years of life, they learn to walk and run (gross motor skills), they learn to manipulate objects with their hands (fine motor skills), they learn to communicate with words and gestures (language skills), and they learn how to interact with other people (social skills). For each of these skill “domains,” experts have identified “developmental milestones,” skills that are acquired by a specific age if development is proceeding normally. So, for example, by one year, a child should be able crawl, put objects into a container, respond to simple verbal requests, and enjoy imitating people during play. Every child attains the various developmental milestones at a slightly different age but their overall development can be monitored using a series of simple tests (items) covering each of the developmental domains. Clinicians and teachers can use these “developmental assessment tools” to identify children whose development deviates significantly from the norm. It is important to identify these children as young as possible because early intervention can help them reach their full developmental potential.
Why Was This Study Done?
In developing countries, poverty, poor health, and malnutrition are responsible for millions of children failing to reach their developmental potential. But because developmental assessment tools have mainly been designed and validated in western, developed countries, they contain many items that are alien to children in non-western cultures (for example, the use of knives and forks for eating and the use of specific gestures). They cannot, therefore, accurately assess whether a child living in, for example, a rural area of Africa, is developing normally. In this study, the researchers describe the creation and testing of a culturally appropriate developmental assessment tool for use in rural Africa—the Malawi Developmental Assessment Tool (MDAT)—from a 162-item draft tool (MDAT Draft I) that they previously developed from Denver II, an assessment tool widely used in developed countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers assessed the “face validity” (do the items look acceptable to untrained judges?) and “content validity” (does the tool examine all the domains it is meant to measure?) of MDAT Draft I and modified it to produce MDAT Draft II. After piloting this version on 80 children in rural Malawi, they modified it further to produce MDAT Draft III, which was used to assess 1,426 normal children aged 0–6 years from rural Malawi and to derive age-standardized norms for each item. After statistically analyzing the performance of each item in MDAT Draft III, all the items were considered at a consensus meeting, and items that were badly performing, unnecessary, and difficult to administer were removed, leaving 136 items (MDAT). The researchers then validated MDAT by using it to assess children with neurodisabilities (disorders of the nervous system that impair normal functioning) and children with delayed development because of malnutrition. The tool was reliable (different testers got similar results for individual children and individual testers got similar results when they retested specific children), sensitive (it correctly identified most children with a neurodisability or delayed development), and specific (it correctly identified most children who were developing normally; that is, it did not give false-positive results).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that MDAT is a culturally relevant assessment tool that reliably identifies children with neurodisabilities and delayed development in rural Malawi. Importantly, they also provide a detailed illustration of how to create and validate a culturally relevant assessment tool. Although MDAT is likely to be applicable in other similar settings, further research is needed to test its generalizability and to test whether it will work in children with more subtle developmental problems. MDAT, the researchers note, should be useful as a clinical tool for the early identification of neurodisabilities and as an outcome measure in clinical trials of interventions designed to improve child development. However, they stress, because developing countries have limited resources available for screening and for helping children whose development is delayed or disrupted, for now tools like MDAT are more likely to be used for research studies than for routine developmental assessments in Malawi and other African countries.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000273.
The World Health Organization has information on disability, prevention, and management in children and adults worldwide
UNICEF has a site on early childhood and in particular, provides information on programming experiences for early child intervention programs worldwide
Disability World is a website for international views and perspectives on disability worldwide. It provides information and links about the worldwide state of disability in children and adults in developing countries
Source, the International Information Support Centre has a good website of information about disability, inclusion, and development in children with links to many other sources of information
Wikipedia has a page on child development (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on developmental screening and on developmental milestones
The American Academy of Pediatrics also provides information on developmental stages and on developmental milestones
The UK National Health Service Choices site has an interactive guide to child development
MedlinePlus has links to further resources on infant and toddler development (in English and Spanish)