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Pennsylvania First Signs Press Release

For Immediate Release
Contact: Christina Novak, DPW
(717) 787-4592
Diane Davis, First Signs
(508) 879-2309

PA Launches Program to Educate Physicians About Early Warning Signs of Autism

HARRISBURG: Public Welfare Secretary Estelle B. Richman today announced that Pennsylvania is launching a program this spring called First Signs to educate healthcare professionals, educators and parents about the early warning signs of autism in young children.

“Early detection and diagnosis of autism and other developmental disorders means that we get children into support services at a much younger age, and we know that makes a big difference in their development,” Secretary Richman said.  “We have many partners collaborating on First Signs to raise awareness and educate health care providers and parents about early warning signs, and we know from the work done by the year-long Autism Task Force that there is a great need for this effort in the Commonwealth.”

First Signs is administered by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) with support from the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), the Pennsylvania Center for Autism and Developmental Disability Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) and Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, Supporting Autism and Families Everywhere (SAFE) and the Autism Society of America, Greater Philadelphia Chapter. 

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The educational model and training program was adapted from the national non-profit organization First Signs, Inc  Other components of the program include professional training, parent outreach and public education.

The goals of the initiative 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 developmental disabilities are identified.


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“Screening can be simple and takes no more than five minutes. Through observation, screening, and sharing with parents, you can ensure each child's healthy development,” said Nancy D. Wiseman, founder and president of First Signs, Inc. “The key is early detection.”

Wiseman, the mother of a young daughter diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, began First Signs six years ago when she learned from her own experience that the early signs of developmental disorders were often missed by parents and physicians.

“There are key milestones that are important to a child's healthy learning, behavior, and development, 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.”

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The Pennsylvania First Signs program will provide:

  • Regional training sessions for healthcare professionals, the first of which are scheduled for April 28 in Scranton, Lackawanna County, and Malvern, Chester County;
  • Hour-long Grand round training sessions at 20 major hospitals in Pennsylvania;
  • Screening kits;
  • Continuing education credits for physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinicians and early childhood educators, and:
  • Parent outreach and education.

Autism is now the third most common childhood disorder in the country, behind mental retardation and language impairment.  Autism affects as many as one in 166 children (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In addition to DPW, CCIU and First Signs, Inc, the Pennsylvania First Signs program is being launched in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Center for Autism and Development Disability Research and Epidemiology and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania First Signs has professional society endorsements from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians and the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants.

The launch of the multi-year program coincides with the announcement of a national awareness campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and “Learn the Signs: Act Early,” aimed at educating parents about healthy developmental milestones and early warning signs of developmental disorders, including autism.

Additional information about the First Signs program is available at


Read the fact sheet about the Pennsylvania First Signs program.


Online references:

Autism Society of Berks County
Chester County Intermediate Unit
DPW Autism Task Force Final Report
Philadelphia Autism Society of America

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