Autism Awareness and Acceptance in Early Childhood

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD is a developmental disability that affects communication, social, and behavioral development. It affects about 1 in 88 children, with more children identified now than ever before. There is no timeframe more critical for children with ASD than the first few years of life. With early screening, identification, and intervention, children with ASD and their families can receive the services and supports they need.

These children, like all children, have an incredible potential to offer the world and it is our responsibility, as an early childhood community, to support them in realizing that potential. This month we should reflect on ways to improve the quality of care we provide to our young children with developmental disabilities. We should take the time to learn more about ASD and recommit ourselves to ensuring that every child that walks through our doors feels the sense of belonging and receives the opportunities for learning that all children deserve.

To support the mission of awareness and acceptance, ACF has created a web page with resources about ASD made specifically for early childhood providers. The web page, which includes ASD fact sheets, tips written for early childhood providers, and links to many other sites that offer free, high quality resources for families and providers, is an excellent gateway to learn more about and support our youngest children with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

This month ACF also gained representation on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), when Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood, Linda K. Smith was confirmed as a member. The IAAC is an advisory committee consisting of Federal and private partners that coordinates all efforts related to ASD within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

As a member on the IAAC, Linda Smith will bring the early childhood perspective and make sure to keep the issue of preparing and supporting the early childhood workforce on the forefront. In a world where 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability and 1 in 88 is affected by ASD, it is imperative that the early childhood workforce attains the preparation and support they need to effectively work with all children. ACF is proud to be a member of the IAAC and a contributor to the ongoing discourse about how to best support children with ASD, their families, and the people who educate and care for them.

In April, and every month thereafter, it is important to reflect on why we do what we do. We see the great potential in our youngest children and we play an important role in helping them realize that potential. With awareness, education, acceptance, and support, as a community, we can make sure all of our children thrive.

Shantel E. Meek, M.S., Special Assistant for Early Childhood Development
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services