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Developmental delay screenings

Stephanie Clayton, a family support specialist with Mental Health America, works with Lily Pabey, 3, of Hammond, during a visit to the girl's home in 2015. The organization is offering free developmental screenings for children Thursday in Highland.

Northwest Indiana parents have a chance to get their kids screened for developmental delays at a free public event Thursday in Highland.

Mental Health America of Northwest Indiana is evaluating children ages 2 months to 5 years old for their cognitive development, motor skills, language, early literacy and social and emotional growth. The organization is also giving free hearing and visual screenings for kids between the ages of 2 and 6.

"It's an opportunity to help families, whether they're enrolled in our programs or not, identify any developmental delays their children may or may not be experiencing," said Andrea Sherwin, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Northwest Indiana.

The organization typically does the screenings for kids enrolled in its home visitation programs such as Healthy Families and Parents as Teachers, but is opening it up to the community for the first time.

"If your child needs additional services, we will point them in the right direction," Sherwin said.

Mental Health America does the screenings based on national standards for kids of a given age.

The nonprofit also screens children prior to kindergarten in the East Chicago, Griffith and Hammond school districts.

"Kindergarten looks very different than it did when we went to school," said Kim Smith, vice president of operations for Mental Health America of Northwest Indiana. "Kids are expected to write their name, to have some basic literacy, know their numbers, know their colors."

She said the most common deficits the organization sees are in literacy.

She noted that the screenings provide parents with strategies for helping their children's development at home. That could be something as simple as reading to them every day.

That is important at a time when 60 percent of kids in Indiana don't go to preschool, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data book. That means most of their early learning will happen at home.

"With the tools and a little bit of information, parents can make a big difference in a small amount of time," Smith said. "Kids' brains are so fantastic at this age that we can have a quick turnaround in outcomes."

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.