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Press Release

For Immediate Release
February 22, 2005
Contact: Natasha Singh
Contact: CDC Media Relations

CDC Launches “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” Campaign

Campaign promotes greater awareness of early child development milestones

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with a coalition of national partners, today launched a public awareness campaign to help parents learn more about the importance of measuring their child’s social and emotional progress in the first few years of life. The campaign, “Learn the Signs. Act Early,” is designed to educate parents about early childhood development, including potential early warning signs of autism and other developmental disabilities.

“Our future lies with our most valuable resource – our children,” said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. “Every child deserves no less than the right to achieve their full life potential. By recognizing the signs of developmental disabilities early, parents can seek effective treatments which can dramatically improve their child’s future.”

In the United States, an estimated 17 percent of children have a developmental or behavioral disability such as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), mental retardation, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Two-percent of children have a serious developmental disability, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, or an ASD. Recent estimates also indicate that up to 1 in166 children have a condition in the autism spectrum.

In recent years, many programs and studies have indicated that early recognition of autism and other developmental disabilities is important because early treatment can significantly improve a child’s development. The CDC campaign recognizes that parents often monitor their children’s physical growth—and encourages parents to expand those efforts to include social and emotional milestones.

“Parents naturally keep track of their child’s height and weight, especially in the early years of life,” said Dr. José Cordero, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “We want parents to add a few new items to the list of things they track. It’s important for parents to note when their child learns to smile, how often their child smiles, when their child starts to speak, when their child begins to play, and how their child interacts with others. And if a parent notices anything that seems unusual, we want them to talk with their child’s doctor or healthcare provider. In some cases, a problem may resolve with more time, but in other cases, a “wait and see” approach could delay opportunities to take helpful action.”

Every child is different and develops at his or her own pace, but most children reach major milestones within a certain range of time (e.g., within 4 to 6 months of age, or by age 1). The CDC campaign teaches parents to pay attention to developmental milestones that children should reach by the age of 6 months, by 1 year, at 2 years, etc. such as turn head when name is called, respond when told “no”, and begin make-believe play.

The CDC campaign also encourages parents to ask their child’s doctor or healthcare professional about activities and steps that can be taken to foster their child’s development. Parents can get information about local resources by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO. In addition to educating parents about important steps in a child’s development, the CDC materials remind health care professionals to observe and measure when children achieve certain abilities, encourage dialogue between parents and health care professionals, and urge both parties to take immediate action when a delay in development is suspected. Free resources are available in English and Spanish for parents and health care professionals. For more information or to request materials call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4656) or visit

“Learn the Signs. Act Early.” is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Autism Coalition, Autism Society of America (ASA), Cure Autism Now (CAN), First Signs, Organization for Autism Research (OAR), and the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR).

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This page last updated February 22, 2005

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