What is the First Signs
First Signs is a public
awareness and training program designed to educate pediatric practitioners,
clinicians, early childhood educators, and parents about the importance of early
detection and intervention of autism and other developmental disorders.
The First Signs
program uses an integrated mix of direct
mail, press activities, public speaking, public service announcements, training,
and our Web site
to disseminate key information about early warning signs, the need for
routine developmental screening, and the options available to parents of
children diagnosed with these disorders. By testing different model programs
in participating states, First Signs
is determining which of these models is most cost effective.
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Is First Signs
a statewide program?
Our intention is to roll out the First
Signs program to an
entire state, but in some cases (i.e., large geographic areas, widely spread
and areas where funding is specific to a certain area) we will confine
implementation to predetermined areas within the state. The First
Signs program can be tailored to any state or area, according to budget, size
of population, diversity of ethnic backgrounds, and availability of services.
How do you
get funding for a program?
We must rely on interested organizations and agencies
within a state to take the lead in raising the funds necessary to launch the
First Signs program. They do this through a variety of channels, including
federal, state, and local agencies, foundations, corporations, and private
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With which organizations do you collaborate?
with selected national, state, and local organizations to ensure that our program
is executed in a high-level, results-driven way and
that the momentum is long lasting. We work with the infrastructure already
in place within a state and with those organizations involved. These organizations
may include state agencies, children’s hospitals, universities, parent organizations,
medical societies, corporations, and non-profit organizations dedicated to
serving the interests of young children.
Additionally, as we implement the First
Signs model, we put
the proper mechanisms in place to ensure that there is quality outreach to
parents to help them
through every step of the screening, referral, diagnostic, and intervention
Everything we do involves some form of collaboration. This
includes the development of our materials, reaching out to the community to
the support that
is needed, serving on committees to change policy and practices, and securing
the funds we need.
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What kind of
relationship do you have with collaborators and/or funders?
Ideally, we envision our relationship with any
organization, state government agency, or university to be
collaborative, mutually supportive, and flexible.
potential collaborators approach you on a program?
Potential collaborators can approach
First Signs in three ways. You
- Purchase First
Signs materials from us and implement your own
awareness and educational program;
- Contract with us to provide guidance and
- Contract with us to provide materials
and to develop, coordinate, and monitor a customized program
tailored to your state.
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Do you collaborate with Early Intervention (EI)?
In fact, it’s important to set up a system with each statewide Early Intervention
Program to track the results of those children being referred.
We like to have a close working relationship with local Part C coordinators.
Their involvement in the program is critical. The better the collaboration,
the better the outcome.
What are the components of the First
Although each statewide program may contain a different
combination of elements based on objectives and budget, a program may consist
- Educational mailings
- Press announcements, articles, and interviews with print and broadcast
- Television, print, and/or radio public
service announcements (PSAs)
- Training for healthcare
providers, clinicians, and early childhood educators (offering CMEs from
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine)
- Webcast training for those who are unable to attend a live training
Train-the-trainer workshops for Early Intervention professionals and
others who wish to improve upon their community outreach to local healthcare
- First Signs
Screening Kit for professionals who attend our trainings
- Parent brochures that contain
important information about developmental screenings and a checklist of our
healthy developmental milestones and Red Flags for an immediate evaluation
- Links and resources specific to each
state on the First Signs Web site at
- Speaking engagements at selected pediatric conferences
- License to use our video, On the
Spectrum: Children and Autism at conferences, seminars, or grand rounds
within the state
- Research or
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Whom are you
First Signs tries to
target as many healthcare providers as possible. But this depends upon the
budget we are working with within a state. If the budget allows—and the
organization(s) sponsoring us agrees—we try to broaden our reach as much as
possible without jeopardizing the depth of the program. Our target audience
may include pediatricians, family practitioners, nurse practitioners,
physician assistants, specialists (e.g., pediatric neurologists,
psychiatrists, psychologists, and developmental pediatricians), health
clinics, Head Start programs, day care centers, and, of course, parents.
How do you get
your mailing lists?
First, we try to obtain mailing lists through local
medical associations, as part of our endorsement agreement. Sometimes, these
organizations are not willing to share their lists, but they will offer to
send out an electronic announcement through their listservs. If we are
unable to obtain lists this way, we will purchase them from an experienced
long would it take to launch a program in my state?
Once we have the required funding and input from
collaborating local health and service organizations within the state, we
can implement the First Signs program
within 3-4 months. What generally takes a long time is for organizations or
agencies within a state to raise the necessary funds.
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Do you offer training?
Yes, we like to if the budget allows. We can bring in
experts to train pediatric practitioners, clinicians, and educators or we
can work with experts within a state. We can also provide train-the-trainer
workshops to provide greater depth and penetration to the communities,
particularly the more rural areas.
What does the First Signs
We do not take a cookie-cutter approach to our program.
Our programs are specifically tailored to each state based on measurable
objectives, target audience, budget, infrastructure, and constraints a state
may have. We tailor a program according the needs of a state. Once we find a
collaborating organization interested in raising the funds necessary to
implement the First Signs program, we will put together a detailed proposal.
The programs we have implemented thus far have ranged in cost from $50,000
for a very small program to $500,000 for a much larger one. It really
depends upon the type of program you wish to implement.
How will I know when the First Signs
program comes to my state?
We will announce any new statewide programs
on our Web site at www.firstsigns.org.
can I help?
There are a number of ways in which you can help:
- Make a contribution to First Signs, Inc.
- Encourage other parents and pediatric professionals to check out our
- Spread the word about the importance of early screening
How can I make a
You can make a tax-deductible donation by sending a check
or money order:
First Signs, Inc.
P.O. Box 358
Merrimac, MA 01860.
For more information,
please see Donations.
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How can I receive a free First Signs
A few participating states
have earmarked funding in their budgets to
cover the costs of providing free First Signs Screening Kits
to local pediatric practitioners and clinicians. For all others who are
interested in obtaining a screening kit, First Signs
offers them for sale through our Web site. The proceeds go
directly to helping First Signs continue our work in educating the public about early
identification and intervention of autism and other developmental disorders.
May I purchase materials directly from First
Signs without my state participating in a program?
Yes, we are pleased to offer all of our
materials directly to the public. To purchase First Signs
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What does the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
recommend to pediatricians about conducting developmental screenings for young children?
The AAP is urging early developmental screening
for ALL CHILDREN beginning at 10 months and screening for autism
spectrum disorders (ASD) for ALL CHILDREN at 18 and 24 months. View
“Identification and Evaluation of Children With Autism Spectrum
Disorders” and “Management of Children With Autism Spectrum
Disorders.” In addition, the AAP recommends that all children be
formally monitored for developmental progress at every well-child
care visit. Physicians should include social-emotional milestones in
addition to the more traditional motor, cognitive, and language
ones. They should have high index of suspicion, especially when
parents have concerns about their child’s language and social
development. The guidelines also emphasize the fact that early
diagnosis resulting in early, appropriate, and consistent
intervention has been shown to be associated with improved long-term
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