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Press Release

For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy D. Wiseman, First Signs, Inc.
(978)346-4380
nwiseman@firstsigns.org

National Model Statewide Campaign to Educate Parents, Physicians About Early Warning Signs of Autism Will be Launched in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS--An innovative statewide campaign designed to educate physicians and parents of young children about the early warning signs of autism and other developmental disorders is underway in Minnesota.

The program -- Minnesota First Signs -- is providing free training, screening kits, and CME credits for physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants in a statewide program that organizers believe can serve as a national model.

“We neither know how to prevent autism nor how to cure it, but we do know that early detection and intensive treatment can profoundly change the quality of life for children at risk and their families,” said Nancy Wiseman, president of First Signs .

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The campaign is a collaborative effort of the Minnesota Department of Education, Autism Society of Minnesota, University of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Health, and First Signs, Inc., a nonprofit organization that is spearheading the effort.

The goals of the initiative, which begins in May, are to:

  • Increase knowledge and awareness of the early warning signs of autism and other developmental disorders.
  • Improve frequency and quality of screening of young children from birth through the early school years.
  • Facilitate timely referral of children to local early intervention programs.
  • Lower the age when children with autism and other development disabilities are identified.

Autism is now the third most common childhood disorder in the country, behind mental retardation and language impairment.

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The prevalence rates of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have risen substantially in Minnesota as well as throughout the country in the past decade and show no signs of leveling off, Wiseman noted.

She said that the current research indicates that autism affects anywhere from 1 in 200 to 1 in 500 children in Minnesota. Based on those figures, she estimated that between 2,754 and 6,434 children have ASD.

“Screening can be simple, taking no more than five minutes. Through observation, screening, and sharing with parents, you can ensure each child’s healthy development. The key is early detection,” Wiseman said.

While each child develops at a different rate, some differences may indicate a slight delay and others, such as no gesturing by nine months or no words by 16 months, may be cause for greater concern and alert parents and physicians to the need for an immediate evaluation,” she added.

Neuroplasticity can be influenced by early intervention and provide children with a greater chance of getting back on the right developmental path.

Recent policy statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Neurology (AAN) recommend routine developmental screening and surveillance at every well visit from birth through school age to identify those at risk for atypical development.

Additional information for parents and physicians regarding autism and related developmental disorders can be found at www.firstsigns.org.

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Read the fact sheet about the Minnesota First Signs program.

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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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