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Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month: Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!

Celebrate Your Child's MilestonesBy Katherine A. Beckmann, PhD, MPH, Senior Policy Advisor for Early Childhood Health and Development

My 13-month-old son is already the embodiment of what I hope for most as a parent; William is happiness and light personified. I am constantly amazed at how quickly he changes in appearance and ability. I know his father and I will support him as he endeavors to reach milestones throughout his young life and into adulthood. And I know we will celebrate these moments within the unique context that is William.

Given that April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, it is especially important to remember that diversity among our nation’s children is an important part of what makes society strong. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability characterized by social communication and interaction challenges. Individuals with ASD might repeat specific patterns of behavior, interests or activities. The severity of symptoms and manner in which these impact the lives of children with ASD vary greatly. Learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Initial signs and symptoms are generally apparent early on in child development; however, some might not be recognized as symptoms of ASD until a child has difficulty meeting social, educational, occupational or other important life stage demands.

The CDC estimates that about one in 68 children were identified with ASD in 2010. Reported in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, ASD is almost five times more common among boys than among girls. Almost half of children identified with ASD had average to above average intellectual ability. On the whole, children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age four, even though children can be reliably diagnosed as early as age two. Research shows that parents of children with ASD have developmental concerns even before their child's first birthday. While ASD cannot be “cured,” early intervention can help dramatically.

For these reasons and others, the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education have partnered to launch Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!, a coordinated effort to encourage developmental and behavioral screening and support for children, families and the providers who care for them. Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! seeks to:

  • Celebrate milestones. Every family looks forward to seeing a child’s first smile, first step, and first words. Regular screenings with early childhood professionals help raise awareness of a child’s development, making it easier to expect and celebrate developmental milestones.
  • Promote universal screening. All of our children need support in the early years to make sure they stay healthy and happy. Just like hearing and vision screenings assure that children can hear and see clearly, developmental and behavioral screenings assure that children are making developmental progress, in areas such as language, social or motor development. Screening is a regular part of growing up.
  • Identify possible delays and concerns early. Screenings can help kids succeed in and beyond their school years. With regular screenings, families, teachers and other professionals can assure that young children get the services and supports they need, as early as possible to help them thrive alongside their peers.
  • Enhance developmental supports. Families are children’s first and most important teachers. Combining the love and knowledge families have of their children with tools, guidance and tips recommended by experts, can help optimize the developmental support children receive.

Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! supports the implementation of these core missions by releasing:

  1. A compendium of research-based screening tools: To elevate the importance of quality, standardized tools, we are releasing a compendium of first line screening tools for young children that can serve as a reference for multiple early childhood sectors. Pertinent information includes cost, administration time, quality level, training required and age range covered.
  2. “User’s Guides” for multiple audiences: This package of Guides describes the importance of developmental and behavioral screening, how to talk to parents, where to go for help, and how to select the most appropriate tool for the population served as well as the provider implementing the screen. There is also a Guide for communities to foster early childhood systems that support developmental and behavioral screening, follow up, referral and closing the loop.
  3. An electronic package of resources for follow-up and support: This collection of resources includes materials, information, and contact information from each partner agency and relevant grantees, that will bring awareness to parents and providers about general early child development, how and where to get help if a concern exists, tips and techniques to help children with disabilities, concerns or delays, and free online training modules on a range of topics. While we are building upon and complementing current federal resources like Learn the Signs. Act Early and Bright Futures, we also have developed new resources such as a Screening Passport for Families and Everyday Tips for Early Care and Education Providers to Support Child Development.

Visit these websites for more information and a complete set of resources:

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