Research and Evaluation

“Learn the Signs. Act Early.” research and evaluation projects advance understanding of how to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, especially among population groups with health disparities.

  • Research projects address the information needs of parents, health care providers, and early educators to improve early identification in populations with health disparities.
  • Evaluation and feasibility studies address how to reach special populations with campaign messages and how to improve systems that identify and serve children with developmental delays.

Extramural research is funded through partnership with AUCD.

Evaluation projects examine progress towards reaching campaign goals and how best to implement campaign strategies in targeted communities across the country. For example, CDC, in partnership with Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), funded projects looking at the best ways to reach audiences with health education messages and materials. In 2010, three state health departments—Alaska, Utah, and Washington—and one university—Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri—received funding. (Read about HRSA’s related Combating Autism Act Initiative here and here.)

Comments from a Parent

“The ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early.’ campaign information was a light to me and to many of the families I work with, who were stuck in a tunnel of the unknown.”―parent of a child with autism,
New Jersey

Research Topics of Interest

Accessing Child Educational Services (ACES)
Jane Squires, PhD, University of Oregon (2010–2011)

This project is investigating barriers, motivators, and other factors that influence parents or caregivers to act early on concerns that child developmental milestones are not being met. Successful strategies, motivators, and facilitating factors for parents and caregivers will be identified to encourage timely and early parent action.

Benchmarks for Early Screening and Testing (BEST)
Jane Squires, PhD, University of Oregon (2010–2011)

This project is investigating current early intervention reporting systems and developing reasonable benchmarks to serve as key standard components of state early intervention systems for screening, assessment, and diagnosis.

Early Identification and Connection to Services among Low Income, Low Literacy Urban Parents
Zolinda Stoneman, PhD, University of Georgia (2010–2011)

The project focused on parents who have low literacy skills, live in poverty, and have young children (birth to 4 years of age). Working with this population helps to identify general strategies for how best to address parents’ awareness, knowledge, and behaviors related to early identification.

Project Conectar: Building Capacity in a Community to Learn the Signs, Act Early 
Bobbie Vaughn, PhD, Florida Center for Inclusive Communities (2009–2010)

The project reduces disparities in early identification of autism and other developmental disabilities and increases access to services in the Little Havana section of Miami, Florida. It also implements a health communication model paired with cultural competence to address the disparities in identification of autism and other developmental disabilities within Hispanic and other diverse communities.

Addressing Disparities in LTSAE: Reaching Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment
Daniel Crimmins, PhD, Georgia State University (2009–2010)

This project assesses the effects of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” awareness education effort and is conducted by home visitation staff who are trained in the SafeCare® model and who work with families in the child welfare system. Their efforts address disparities in the early identification of developmental delays among children at risk for maltreatment.

Parents as Detailers to Increase Primary Care Provider Referrals for Early Intervention
Daniel Crimmins, PhD, Georgia State University (2009–2010)

This project demonstrates that parents of children with developmental disabilities can serve as “detailers” for the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign, distributing materials and information, and thereby increasing referral rates among primary care providers for children with possible developmental delays.

Helping Family Practitioners Improve Developmental Services in Primary Care
Laura McGuinnMD, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (2008–2009)

his project evaluated a pilot program that helped family practitioners improve awareness, knowledge, and office processes regarding developmental surveillance, screening, and referral to early intervention services. These efforts were designed to improve the developmental surveillance and screening services provided by family practitioners and to enhance communication between family practitioners and early intervention services, thereby increasing family practitioner referrals to early intervention services.

Project 3D: Developmental Delays and Disabilities Screening and Referral Project
William Schwab, MD, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison (2008–2010)

This project evaluated a pilot program for family physicians to support their capacity to screen for developmental milestones and to use Part C Early Intervention Services and Section 619 Early Childhood Special Education Services.

Read more about RTOIs.

Collaborative Research Awards

Involving Allied Health Care Professionals in Helping Parents to Navigate Systems for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Lily Nalty, MA, CCC-SLP, University of South Carolina (2009–2010)

The study examined the role of allied health professionals in providing early identification and guidance for parents through screening and diagnosis, identifying preferred communication methods to reach allied health professionals, and developing recommendations for strategies that aid allied health professionals in helping parents to “Act Early.”

Using Positive Parenting to Teach Child Development
Jennifer D. Burt, Ph.D., University of Nebraska

The study reviewed current CDC parenting materials (Positive Parenting tips and “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” milestones) and developed recommendations for strategies to help parents understand child development through positive parenting and developmental activities.

Read more about CRAs.