Towards a Critical Reframing of Early Detection and Intervention for Developmental Concerns
Paul Dworkin, MD, founding director of the Help Me Grow National Center, discusses a report focused on the approach and materials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Learn the Signs. Act Early” (LTSAE) campaign. Early in 2002, in response to CDC research, Congress mandated the establishment of a national awareness and education program to disseminate information on autism identification and diagnosis to families and health care providers. The CDC responded to the mandate by developing the LTSAE campaign. Communication research – which involved health care professionals, parents, and educators – profoundly informed campaign content by yielding two key recommendations: the campaign’s primary focus should be expanded from the early detection of autism to that of a broad range of developmental concerns, and the campaign should explicitly focus on the importance of monitoring children’s development.
According to Dr. Dworkin, the report’s findings reinforce key principles of successful early detection. For example, the report emphasizes the critical importance of parental engagement and eliciting parents’ opinions and concerns. Parents were typically the first to express concern about their children’s development, which they often compared to that of other similarly aged children to determine any developmental differences.
Most participants discussed their concerns with their children’s health care providers, which reinforces the critical role of the pediatrician in both eliciting and responding to parents’ concerns and opinions. The report also supports the belief that parents and health care providers should routinely discuss children’s development, review milestones, and address parents’ questions and concerns. Furthermore, the report authors acknowledge the utility of screening tools in guiding conversations with parents and enabling parents to raise their concerns more frequently.