Book Review

Developmental Assessment: Theory, Practice and Application to Neurodisability written by Patricia M Sonksen 

Book Review by Karen Horridge

City Hospitals Sunderland, Sunderland, UK

Published in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, November 2016

Developmental Assessment: Patricia Sonksen


A working knowledge of typical child development is essential for all who regularly work with children: paediatricians, allied health professionals, and education and social care workers. I recommend this book for all of these teams, both for reading as a whole and as a reference to consult as required.

The author has a career-long interest and expertise in child development that shines through each chapter. This helps the reader to better understand the science underpinning the observation, assessment, and promotion of child development across individual domains and as a whole, including when there are motor, cognitive, and/or sensory impairments.

The book is easy to navigate, as each chapter follows a set structure. The epidemiology, descriptive terminology, and neurological substrate are all initially outlined. The role of the specific developmental domain is then put in the context of overall early development, before moving on to assessment. The reader’s attention is maintained with plenty of stories from the author’s own experience and observations, which celebrate the developmental achievements of infants and children. The book is full of practical tips for those wishing to hone their own developmental assessment skills and better understand how all the elements of development hang together as a whole.

The reader is encouraged to use all their powers of observation and is introduced to a tool box of objective assessment tests, including explanations of the scientific evidence underpinning each. Although developmental domains are considered individually, this is always with an eye to how the particular domain relates to other areas of development. The reader is guided as to how to focus on details during assessment, being very precise and specific about which domain is being assessed by a particular tool.

It is clear from reading the book as a whole that Dr Sonksen has such great expertise in the area of developmental assessment that she can dip in and out of a whole range of assessment tools tailored to the individual child. Those who read the book will be inspired to put into practice the exacting art and science of developmental assessment, so that they too may be better able to precisely describe the development of a range of children. Once a thorough understanding of the principles and practice is acquired, readers will, as the author suggests, be able to progress to the next step of giving developmental guidance to families that is based on best evidence. They will be able to set realistic and achievable goals in a way that celebrates achievement, without focussing too much on all the things that the child cannot do.

A single-authored book does bring a single perspective, with a strong emphasis on the author’s main interest in the field, which in this instance is the development of vision. The approach to developmental assessment described here is very much a clinic-based model. There is little discussion about how the paediatrician works in partnership across agencies in assessing and promoting child development, specifically with education specialists including teachers and educational psychologists in nursery or school settings, which is the model of interagency working adopted in most locality services across the UK. The book is rather culture- and language-specific. All the children in the case studies have native British names. It is a shame there is not more discussion about the global context or how the assessment methods and tools might be adapted for use in other languages, cultures, and settings. Despite these limitations, this is an enjoyable book written with enthusiasm. It should be of interest to those who want to better understand child development and how to accurately assess and promote it.