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Understanding the needs of children and families attending assessment services

There is a growing need for timely, cost-efficient and patient-centered approaches to assessments for children and families in hospital- and community-based neurodevelopmental services. 


Our studies have partnered with child development units and other clinical settings to better understand the practical and diagnostic needs of children and families presenting for neurodevelopmental assessments.  

This study profiled mental health symptoms in children with neurodevelopmental conditions (NDCs) attending a hospital-based diagnostic service for their first diagnostic and developmental assessment. We found that more than one-third of children attending a diagnostic service had mental health needs. Children with multiple NDCs had increased needs compared to children with one NDC. It is critical that mental health concerns are identified and addressed in children when they first present to developmental assessment services, and that service providers are equipped to provide appropriate resources and pathways to ongoing care.

Boulton, K. A., Guastella, A. J., Hodge, M. A., Demetriou, E. A., Ong, N., & Silove, N. (2023). Mental health concerns in children with neurodevelopmental conditions attending a developmental assessment service. Journal of Affective Disorders.



We evaluated the efficacy of electronic data collection (EDC) at the Child Development Unit,
a hospital-based diagnostic assessment clinic in the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.
We found that completion rates for pre-appointment questionnaires were significantly higher for EDC compared to paper-based methods and a vast majority of respondents prefered to complete the questionnaire online.

Patel, S., Boulton, K. A., Redoblado-Hodge, M. A., Papanicolaou, A., Barnett, D., Bennett, B., ... & Guastella, A. J. (2021). The acceptability and efficacy of electronic data collection in a hospital Neurodevelopmental clinic: Pilot Questionnaire study. JMIR formative research, 5(1), e18214.

Children with neurodevelopmental conditions (NDCs) and their families share many common needs but there are no harmonised national data collection networks. We worked with researchers, clinicians and community groups, across many specialist clinics, to develop a transdiagnostic assessment protocol that will establish one of the first large-scale transdiagnostic databases. The goal is to inform policy and practice, ultimately improving the lives of children with NDCs and their families.

Boulton, K. A., Coghill, D., Silove, N., Pellicano, E., Whitehouse, A. J., Bellgrove, M. A., ... & Guastella, A. J. (2021). A national harmonised data collection network for neurodevelopmental disorders: A transdiagnostic assessment protocol for neurodevelopment, mental health, functioning and well‐being. JCPP Advances, 1(4), e12048.



Early developmental assessment is crucial for effective support and intervention. We looked at factors that contribute to the age of the child when caregivers first become concerned about their development and when they first receive diagnostic assessments. The study shows that a substantial assessment delay leaves the most vulnerable children without an assessment by school age and highlights contributors to these delays.

Boulton, K. A., Hodge, M. A., Jewell, A., Ong, N., Silove, N., & Guastella, A. J. Predictors of Diagnostic Delay in Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Available at SSRN 4143698.

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