With support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver is pleased to announce its partnership with Northwestern University’s Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences to develop a “Baby Toolbox,” a multi-dimensional set of brief, royalty-free measures to assess cognitive, sensory, motor and emotional function that can be administered in two hours or less across diverse study designs and settings. Dr. Douglas H. Clements, co-Executive Director of the Marsico Institute, serves as the math content lead for this award and Dr. Julie Sarama, also co-Executive Director of the Marsico Institute, is a contributing member of the research team.

The “NIH  Baby  Toolbox” (NBT) will be a valid, normed battery of tablet-based (or scored) measures of cognition, social functioning, language (receptive and expressive), numeracy, self-regulation, executive function and potentially motor development of infants and toddlers ages 1 – 42 months. This design is modeled after the  NIH  Toolbox  test battery for ages 3-85, which Morgridge College Dean, Dr. Karen Riley, and professor, Dr. Jeanine Coleman, have used in their Cognitive Measures research project for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Prior to the creation of the NIH toolboxes, there were many studies that collected information on aspects of neural function (cognition, sensation, motor, emotion) with little uniformity among the measures used to assess these constructs. Moreover, few studies included capturing information in all four domains because including such breadth of information would be costly in terms of time and subject burden.

With the Toolbox, researchers can now assess function using a common metric and can “crosswalk” among measures, supporting the pooling and sharing of large data sets. The NIH Toolboxes support scientific discovery by bringing a common language to important research questions both with respect to the primary study aims and to those arising from secondary data analyses. The four batteries provide researchers with streamlined measures that have minimal subject burden and cost.

Additional university research teams collaborating on the project are Florida State University, University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University, and New York University.

Expecting change and quickly being able to pivot has become part of life during the pandemic. Among the many challenges facing mental health and education providers is distance learning and assessment. Rising to the challenge is Dr. Jeanine Coleman, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education. Coleman, along with Morgridge College Professor Emerita, Dr. Toni Linder, and Colorado Department of Education Child Find Specialist Dr. Christopher Miller, published updated guidelines for online play-based assessments to allow specialists to continue to serve families and children in need.

The existing Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA) measures four critical developmental domains—sensorimotor, emotional and social, communication, and cognitive—through observation of the child’s play with family members, peers, and professionals. As data shows, early intervention is especially important from birth to age three to help infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays to learn many key skills and catch up in their development. Stopping these assessments because of COVID-19 is not an option, because children need all of the help they can get during this crucial time of their life.

Their publication, Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA) Online Guidance, outlines a set of guidelines for how to use TPBA2 online. As the publication notes, “The TPBA2 process has always involved an adult playing with a child while professionals observe the engagement and interaction. Parent–child play is part of that process, and a video of the session is recommended for the team to review. Moving to an online system, where the team is not physically present, requires some interesting modifications.”

These modifications include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines, how to support parents so they can use the video platforms, preparing for the online play session, and virtual family involvement.

According to one local Child Find Coordinator, “We have done five TPBAs remotely so far and they have gone well with family coaching.”

Though not perfect, the team published their adapted guidelines and are asking for feedback. As the process evolves, it is important to refine their publication to meet the needs of the community.

Already one school psychologist out of California has asked for a set of guidelines in Spanish, but also noted her appreciation of the project.

“Thank you for supporting educators in the special education realm with your TPBA2 virtual assessment and webinar,” she wrote. “It was very helpful and provided a clear direction on how to implement and go about the process logistically. We are going to be maximizing the opportunity to implement it in our early education program.”


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