The following article appeared in
Developmental and Behavioral News, Volume
11, No. 1, Winter edition 2002. It has been reprinted with the permission of
the editor, Copyright 2002.
Developmental and Behavioral News is a publication of the American Academy
of Pediatrics (AAP) Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Frances
Page Glascoe, Ph.D., adjunct professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University,
is the author.
would like to thank the staff at Developmental
Behavioral News for graciously allowing us to reprint their article.
From AAP Developmental
and Behavioral News - Winter 2002
“First Signs” Launches
National Campaign to Inform Physicians and Parents about
Autism and Developmental Disorders
First Signs, a national awareness initiative, was recently
launched in the state of New Jersey to inform the state’s physicians and
parents about the early warning signs of autism and developmental disorders.
The New Jersey pilot,
which was launched in collaboration with UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical
School and New Jersey Center for Outreach Services to the Autism Community
(COSAC), was the first statewide campaign of its kind in the country.
announced its launch on April 27, 2001 in Washington D.C. before
the Congressional Caucus on Autism, the non-profit organization has received
hundreds of requests from pediatricians, parents, and other clinicians throughout
the country for information about early identification and treatment. The organization
hopes to create a national model for disseminating key information about early
warning signs, the need for routine developmental screening, and the options
available to parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
the December 2001 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine,
the editorial “Child Development in Pediatrics: Beyond Rhetoric”,1 First
Signs is noted as an example of how parents are listening closely to the recent
national emphasis on the importance of early childhood development. “Because
parent groups have a long and special tradition of improving care for children,
it is likely that they, rather than professional organizations, will be more
effective in changing practice.”
grew out of the personal experience
of founder, Nancy Wiseman, whose daughter was diagnosed with autism in 1998.
Based on her daughter’s steady improvement
through early identification and treatment, Wiseman, a marketing communications
professional, had an important message to share with physicians and parents. “The
high and growing incidence of autism and related disabilities demands greater
awareness and improved early identification,” says Wiseman. “We don’t know
how to prevent autism or how to cure it, but we do know that early and intensive
treatment and intervention can profoundly change the quality of life for children
at risk and their families. The key is early detection.”
To that end, the First
Signs mission is to ensure the best developmental outcome for every child.
By educating both parents and physicians, First Signs
to promote ongoing discussions regarding the most important and often overlooked
aspects of development: social/emotional, communication, and behavior. Through
an integrated mix of print and broadcast press, direct mail, public service
announcements, speaking engagements, and their Web site, the First
on a primary target audience of physicians, parents, and family service organizations.
The program has three principal components: a screening kit for pediatricians
and family practitioners, an informational mailing to parents of children under
three years of age, and a comprehensive Web site that provides evidence-based
information for parents and professionals.
Physicians in participating states
receive a mailing offering a First Signs Screening Kit that
includes an educational video (hosted by Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes”),
a developmental milestones wall chart, validated screening tools for both developmental
and autism screening, screening guidelines for physicians, and an early Intervention
referral guide. The 20-minute video, On the Spectrum:
Children and Autism,
outlines the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders, provides guidelines
for conducting a developmental screening, and describes how to relay concerns
parents. On the Spectrum draws upon clinical expertise through interviews
with some of the top experts in the field.
One of the initiative’s major goals
is to encourage more pediatricians to refer young children to early intervention
programs. In keeping with the recent AAP
Policy Statement on the Pediatrician’s Role in the Diagnosis and Management
of Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, First Signs
recommends that a
or nurse practitioner perform a routine developmental screening at every well
visit for any type of atypical development. The First
Signs Screening Guidelines leads physicians through the referral process for those children in need.
of children under age three receive an informational mailing creating awareness
around the hallmark milestones during each stage of development.
A checklist of developmental milestones helps to serve as discussion points
parents and physicians. To minimize language and cultural barriers in parent
populations, First Signs
will test informational mailings to Head Start programs
and day care centers in selected areas to see if family service workers can
influence parents to have their children screened.
The First Signs
at www.firstsigns.org provides physicians and parents with essential developmental
information, an explanation of the screening process,
a systematic guide that walks them through each stage of the process, listings
of available local and national resources, and links to research, books, articles,
and programs nationwide. Physicians and parents can become better informed
about the different educational, biomedical, and alternative treatments for
is endorsed by the American Academy of
Pediatricians/New Jersey Chapter, Medical Society of New Jersey, and the
New Jersey Pediatric
is funded by a number of foundations and government agencies, including Cure
Autism Now, the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, the Mellanby Autism
Foundation, the New Jersey Governor’s
Council on Autism at UMDNJ, and Parents of Autistic Children (POAC) of Ocean
To learn more about the initiative, visit the First
Signs Web site at
 Zuckerman, B., Augustyn, M., Parker S., (2001). Child
development in pediatrics: Beyond rhetoric. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 155,
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