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Minnesota First Signs

First Signs launched the Minnesota pilot program in 2003-2004 in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), the University of Minnesota, the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM), and the Minnesota Department of Health. The following provides information about the program and the follow-up evaluation study. We provide links to articles in the press and to numerous Web-related disability resources for Minnesota.

Minnesota First Signs Program
Minnesota Evaluation Study
Minnesota First Signs in the News
Minnesota Disability Resources
A Pediatric Practitioner's Guide to Early Childhood Intervention in Minnesota.
(PDF brochure: outside panels | inside panels)

Minnesota First Signs Program

Minnesota First Signs was launched in April 2003. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM), Minnesota Department of Health, University of Minnesota, and First Signs, Inc. collaborated in this statewide initiative. The Minnesota First Signs model differed significantly from the previous New Jersey First Signs pilot. Instead of offering a self-paced independent study, the Minnesota First Signs model offered live training seminars to medical practitioners, clinicians, and early childhood educators.

The Minnesota First Signs program was funded by:

  • Minnesota Department of Education

The Minnesota First Signs program was endorsed by:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics/MN Chapter
  • Minnesota Academy of Physician Assistants
  • Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians

The objectives of the Minnesota First Signs program were to:

  • Increase knowledge of early warning signs among pediatric practitioners in Minnesota to raise their level of awareness
  • Improve frequency and quality of screening young children
  • Facilitate timely referral of children in Minnesota to local Early Intervention programs
  • Lower the age at which children are identified with autism and other developmental disorders in Minnesota

The Minnesota First Signs program consisted of:

  • Press campaign
  • Mailings to more than 4,000 physicians, clinicians, and early childhood educators inviting them to participate in a live training seminar, receive continuing education credits, and a free First Signs Screening Kit
  • 3 training workshops and 2 Grand Rounds
  • 3 Early Childhood Intervention train-the-trainer workshops (provided PowerPoint slides, handouts, and First Signs Screening Kits to participants)
  • Live and archived Webcast for continuing education credits
  • Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
  • Parent outreach, consisting of telephone support for parents looking for help or referrals
  • Page on our Web site dedicated to MN resources

Minnesota Evaluation Study

The evaluation study is being conducted by First Signs.

Evaluation questions

  • Are influencing pediatric practice?
  • Are we improving screening by medical practitioners?
  • Are we improving referral of children to Early Childhood Intervention programs?

Evaluation strategy

  • Compare results from pre- and post-tests to measure knowledge gained from a single training session
  • Monitor visits to dedicated MN Web pages
  • Compare annual changes in referral rates to MN Early Childhood Intervention

Evaluation Results
The Minnesota First Signs program has trained over 500 medical practitioners in live presentations and an additional 134 practitioners through our Webcast. 58% turned in completed pre- and post-tests, with 76% agreeing to participate in a two-year follow up efficacy study. Over 60% improved upon their test scores from pre to post tests.

First Signs provided outreach training to 130 professionals including Early Childhood Intervention staff and Autism Resource Specialists from all regions of the state who expanded the training for local outreach efforts. They, in turn, have trained an additional 685 physicians and medical practitioners. Further training has been provided for more than 3,238 early childhood professionals and community providers across the state.

Physicians with the MN Chapter of the AAP: Committee for Children with Disabilities have begun incorporating First Signs information into physician training programs at the University of Minnesota.

Screening kits have been distributed to over 900 practitioners and clinics statewide. Over 2% of First Signs’ monthly Web traffic can be tracked to Minnesota. Initial Minnesota Child Count data from December 1, 2003 indicates a significant increase in identification of children with autism in the age groups under age 6 and more importantly for those under age 3. While they are still small numbers and open to interpretation, the most notable difference is a 75% increase in the number of young children identified in the 0-2 age group from 2002 until 2003. The overall increase in identification of ASD for all children 0-21 in the same period was 23%. The rate of increase for the 0-2 group from 2001-2002 was 40%. The overall increase in identification of ASD for all children 0-21 in 2001-2002 was 27%.

These are only a few small measures of the possible effectiveness of the Minnesota First Signs initiative.

Minnesota First Signs in the News

Autumn 2004: First Signs Model Program Makes Great Strides in Early Detection in Minnesota: Clinicians and Educators Play Major Role in Increased Screenings
AAP Behavioral and Developmental News, Autumn 2004,
Pages 20-22
May 5, 2003: Autism Screening Program Launched By State (PDF)
Minnesota Physician MedFax, Vol. 10, Number 29, May 5, 2003
April 28, 2003: First Signs Press Release: National Model Statewide Campaign to Educate Parents, Physicians About Early Warning Signs of Autism Will be Launched in Minnesota
April 25, 2003: Minnesota First Signs Fact Sheet: Minnesota Statewide Program to Educate Medical Professionals on Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorders
April 25, 2003: Minnesota MDE Press Release: MDE to Use Federal Funds for Early Autism Identification Effort

To read all news articles related to First Signs, visit our Press Center.

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