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Press Release

For Immediate Release - April 25, 2003
Contact: Doug Gray
(651) 582-8281

MDE to Use Federal Funds for Early Autism Identification Effort

(St. Louis Park, MN)-- The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) plans to use $100,000 in federal special education funds to train medical practitioners to screen for possible autism and other developmental disorders in very young children. Early identification may result in fewer and/or less challenging difficulties as children enter school. First Signs, Inc., the national nonprofit organization that developed the educational program and materials to be used, joined MDE and its partners from the state Department of Health, the University of Minnesota and the Autism Society of Minnesota in announcing this program at the Autism Society’s conference today.

“Thanks to our partners in this area, this innovative use of federal funds could help Minnesota students and reduce some long-term expenses,” said Mary Begalle, director of federal programs for MDE. “We hope this effort will be one of many ways we can leverage federal funds and help state residents.”

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Invited pediatricians, family practitioners, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants from around the state will attend presentations on screening for autism and other developmental disorders at the University of Minnesota, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, and Fraser Child and Family Center beginning in early May. Attendees will learn how to screen and identify the often-subtle differences between healthy and atypical development. One hundred attendees will participate in an evaluation project designed to improve developmental screening in early childhood.

“There is a real need in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. for improved early screening as a growing number of children are diagnosed with autism and other developmental disorders,” said First Signs president Nancy Wiseman. “Our educational program and screening kit can help more children benefit from early and appropriate intervention.”

First Signs will prepare progress reports at the end of each year showing how its educational efforts have improved pediatric screening and referral practices. It will provide a final report summarizing the project in the spring of 2005. More information on this effort is available on the Internet at


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Read the fact sheet about the Minnesota First Signs program.


Minnesota First Signs Screening Kit now available

The First Signs Screening Kit has now been tailored specifically for use in Minnesota and is available for immediate distribution.

The Minnesota First Signs Screening Kit includes all the items in the original First Signs Screening Kit including the video and screening tools, as well as specific resources and referral information for every community in the state.

For order information in Minnesota, click here.

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