As clinicians and researchers used the ICF, they became more aware of its limitations. The ICF lacks the ability to classify the functional characteristics of a developing child. Different ICF codes are needed across the first years of a child’s life to capture the growth and development of a disability even when the child’s diagnosis does not change. The coding system can provide essential information about the severity of a health condition in terms of its impact on functioning. This can serve a significant role for providers caring for children with spectrum disorders such as autism or cerebral palsy. Children with these conditions may have the same diagnoses, but their abilities and levels of functioning widely vary across and within individuals over time. The first draft of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health for Children and Youth (ICF-CY) was completed in year 2003 and published in 2007. The ICF-CY was developed to be structurally consistent with the ICF for adults. A major difference between the ICF-CY and ICF is that the generic qualifiers from the adult ICF now include developmental aspects for children and youth in the ICF-CY. Descriptions of codes in the ICF-CY were revised and expanded and new content was added to previously unused codes. Codes were added to document characteristics as adaptability, responsivity, predictability, persistence, and approachability. “Sensing” and “exploration of objects” codes were expanded as well as the “importance of learning”. Since a child’s main occupation is playing, it is also important to include more codes in this area. Different levels of play have separate codes in the ICF-CY (solitary, onlooker, parallel). This contrasts with the adult ICF as only one code existed in regards to leisure or recreation.
Changes in ICF-CY codes over time reflect developmental effects attributable to the child’s interaction with the environment. Environmental factors influence functioning and development and can be documented as barriers or facilitators using the ICF-CY. The key environments of children and adolescents include their homes, day care centers, schools and recreation settings of playground, parks, and ball fields. Children will transition between different environments many times as they grow. For example, a child will transition into elementary or high school or from one service setting or agency to another. Attention to these transitions of children with disabilities has been identified as an important role for health care providers. A transition requires preparation and planning to find an appropriate and accommodating setting for a child’s needs. With a coding system such as the ICF-CY, the transition will be smoother and interventions can start where the previous health provider left off.