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Previous Partner Spotlights

Delaware Center Works Closely With Partners To Promote “Learn the Signs. Act Early.”

In 2010, the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies (CDS) began efforts to promote the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign with support from a grant provided by the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council. Through this grant, CDS hired a part-time campaign manager to carry out a statewide public awareness campaign about the benefits of developmental screening, with a focus on underserved families. Additional funding from the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs also supports this statewide initiative.


Campaign Champion Makes Sure Early Intervention Resources Available to All
Susan Ray
Campaign Champion, Washington State

As a family involvement coordinator with the Washington State Department of Health, Susan Ray works hard to get families the information and services they need related to child development. Realizing that some cultures use different words to describe child development concepts, she took action.

Susan and her team found funding for and translated the Autism Speaks Early Childhood Milestone Map into seven languages spoken in her state—Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Somali, Vietnamese, and Laotian. The milestone map helps parents follow their child's development and gives ideas for parents who want to learn more about developmental milestones and delays. The milestone map also supports the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign materials.


Wisconsin’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign has become more coordinated and state-specific with a new developmental milestones brochure and “Act Early Wisconsin” website.

Two Wisconsin projects actively disseminate CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign materials: the Wisconsin Surveillance of Autism and Other Development Disabilities System (WISADDS), which is part of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, and the Connections initiative, a state demonstration grant funded through the Combating Autism Act Initiative. Through these projects, Wisconsin has disseminated “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” messages and materials statewide through a growing network of state partners.


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Regional Coordinator Promotes Family-Centered Approach to Early Intervention
Michele Presley
Campaign Champion, Oklahoma

Michele Presley sees time and again the benefits of early intervention—especially in the support offered to families of young children with developmental delays. “We know that the sooner we can start working with a child—and the family as a whole—the better the results,” she says.

As regional coordinator for the SoonerStart Early Intervention Program, the state of Oklahoma’s nationally recognized early intervention program, Michele oversees four teams of service coordinators. Her teams provide evaluations; case management; family training and home visits; nursing services; and occupational, physical, and speech–language therapy. “We help families find doctors and obtain services; we’re also in their homes, listening to moms, dads, and the rest of the family,” she adds. “We are dedicated to the whole family.”
Supporting the entire family is key to the child’s success. “We help parents deal with the range of emotions they may feel upon finding out that their child has a developmental delay,” says Michele. “We must help parents first before they can help their child.”


Estelle Flank
Campaign Champion, Maryland

As a seasoned parent, early childhood educator, and community college professor, Estelle Flank has sharp instincts about child development. She credits the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." campaign with giving her the tools she needs to help her education students at Montgomery College develop their instincts, too.

Before becoming an adjunct professor at Montgomery College in Montgomery County, Md., Estelle was an early childhood educator and HeadStart instructor in the public school system for nearly 20 years. She now teaches education courses at Montgomery College, where her students—including current and future educators—learn about child development.


Campaign Champion Works With Libraries To Increase Community Awareness of Developmental Disabilities
Lisa Kowalski
Campaign champion, Michigan

“My desire is to spread child development awareness throughout my community in the hope that it will reach audiences nationwide, especially parents. Parents need to know that there are many resources available to them, but the best tool they have is themselves,” says campaign champion Lisa Kowalski.

Lisa always had a natural interest in child development. Her interest turned to passion when the younger of her two boys, Aaron, was diagnosed with autism. Lisa had been comparing Aaron’s development to her oldest child’s and kept noticing delays. “The first two times I brought him to his pediatrician with concerns, I was brushed off and told to wait three months,” says Lisa.


Father Helps Families by Merging the Worlds of Technology and Autism
Dr. Gregory Abowd

As a father of three children, Dr. Gregory Abowd knows the importance of monitoring developmental milestones. Two of Gregory’s children have autism, which inspired him to start the Autism Research Group at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Gregory and his team are on the leading edge of using technology to address the many challenges of autism.

Gregory and his team at Georgia Tech developed a new way to use video recording to track the problem behaviors that a child with an autism spectrum disorder might be experiencing. When Gregory and his team began, video recording children with autism wasn’t new; however, their method of isolating behaviors at the touch of a button was innovative. “Videotaping allowed us to replay events and evaluate behaviors,” says Gregory. “Studying actual data instead of relying on memory gave us more accurate information.” Better information can help caregivers to decide how to teach a child a skill in a more effective way.


"Paint the Country Purple" Winners:
Norah Louise Johnson, Penelope Brennell, Julie Roscoe, and Dr. Diane R. Edwards

In March 2008, the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign issued a challenge to its champions and partners to “Paint the Country Purple” (PTCP) during Autism Awareness Month by conducting or participating in local activities to increase awareness of the importance of monitoring a child’s development. We received many entries from across the country, showing how your efforts are helping parents, health care professionals, early educators, and other community members learn about child development, developmental disabilities, and the importance of early intervention. We are proud to present the four PTCP winners, who were recognized at the Autism Society of America’s conference in this past July.
Read more... Norah Louise Johnson, Penelope Brennell, Julie Roscoe, and Dr. Diane R. Edwards

Emily Iland
Autism advocate and campaign champion, Santa Clarita, California
Many People, Many Ways: How One Mom is Increasing Awareness of Developmental Disabilities

Emily Iland wears many hats—mother, author, educator, advocate. Though she plays numerous roles, one thing remains constant: her passion for educating people about developmental disabilities. Through her work, she has also helped promote the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign and has found unique ways to incorporate campaign materials into her outreach efforts.


Ginger Meyners
Director of Marketing, National Association of Child Care Professionals

As marketing director of the National Association of Child Care Professionals (NACCP), Ginger Meyners is dedicated to providing child care leaders with the necessary tools to deliver quality care. When she heard about the Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign, she knew its resource kit could help her organization educate child care providers about developmental milestones and delays.

“One of NACCP’s main goals is to guide child care leaders on all child care issues, including childhood development,” says Ginger. “This campaign and its materials are invaluable to us.”

Maria Abinader
Campaign Champion and Parent Advocate, New Jersey

“Hearing the diagnosis of ‘autism’ for the youngest of my four children left me and my family feeling like we were in a tunnel of the unknown,” says Maria Abinader, a campaign champion and parent advocate in her Hispanic community.

The Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign resources helped Maria and her family to navigate that tunnel to understand and help Maria’s youngest child, Luli. Read more...

Wendy Nilsen, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center
Director of Children's Center in Monroe County, New York

Dr. Wendy Nilsen, an active campaign champion and child psychologist, often spends time with children in the New York family court system. Aware of the importance of social, emotional, and cognitive development, Wendy wants to make sure families are informed of all the signs that mark a child’s growth. “Every major court across the nation has a child care center. In my area, these child care centers are called the Children’s Center, and that’s where I talk with families regarding not only their child’s physical growth, but their child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development as well,” said Wendy.

The Children’s Center has a three-part mission to help families at risk: provide children with a safe place while their families are in court, provide resources and training to the court concerning children’s needs, and conduct outreach to families regarding their children’s development. Wendy says, “I use the ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early.’ campaign materials to help inform parents.” Read more...

Sofía Quezada
Campaign Champion, California

“When parents from my Latino-based community come to me with concerns about their child’s development, I tell them do not wait and see if your child gets better. If you suspect something, as I did, talk with your doctor,” says Sofía Quezada, a dedicated campaign champion and mother of a son with autism, Julian.

Sofía knew Julian was having problems with his development at a very young age. “I noticed he was not developing properly. It was a struggle every day for him to do things children his age were easily doing.” After taking him to his pediatrician several times, Sofía decided it was time to get a second opinion. She was referred to a school psychologist, who told her Julian might have autism. By that time, he was almost 4 years old. Read more..

Ron Oberleitner
CEO of Caring Technologies/ TalkAutism, Idaho

Ron Oberleitner and his family trusted their instincts about his son Robby. At around 15 months of age, Robby gradually started to lose skills he once had. He began avoiding eye contact, preferred to lie under his crib, and lost just about all his speech. “Over the next 22 months, we took Robby to many different doctors and specialists. They ruled out numerous disorders and diseases, but only after enduring sleepless nights, tantrums, and overall confusion in our family, it was a reluctant psychologist who finally helped us confirm Robby had autism,” said Ron. Read more...

Christine Breunig
Project Coordinator for the National Medical Home Autism Initiative, Wisconsin

As the project coordinator for the National Medical Home Autism Initiative (NMHAI), Christine Breunig knows the importance of early intervention. Throughout her professional career, she has dedicated her life to children, first as an educator and an elementary school principal, then as an executive director at a Child Care Resource Referral Agency. “It was clear when working with young children that early identification and intervention provide those children experiencing developmental challenges the best opportunity for developing to their full potential,” said Christine. Read more...

Heidi Fernandez
Campaign Champion, Georgia

Campaign Champion Heidi Fernandez knows the importance and benefits of early detection of a developmental delay. Heidi’s son Andrew was diagnosed with autism at 2½ years of age. But before his official diagnosis, Heidi and her husband began to see signs of developmental delays and took action right away. Once they learned of Andrew’s diagnosis, they took steps to help him develop to his full potential. Read more...

Michael McKee
Executive Director of Virginia Institute of Autism

As executive director of the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), Michael McKee feels like he has the most rewarding job of his entire career. In the two years he has been in the position, Michael has been motivated by what he has seen in the world of autism and is determined to connect children with autism with their families. At the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), Michael and his staff help hundreds of families who are seeking services, training, information, and evidence-based interventions. Read more...

Dianne Burdette
Child Care Health Consultant Coordinator for The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey

Dianne Burdette understands the importance of educating child care providers about early intervention when a developmental delay is suspected. As a child care health consultant coordinator for The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, Ocean County’s child care resource and referral agency, she receives requests from child care providers and early care and childhood education professionals for technical assistance and recommendations on strategies to deal with children with autism and other developmental delays. Read more...

Donna Ross Jones, Campaign Champion
Special Needs Network Inc., California

Donna Ross Jones knows firsthand the importance of tracking a child’s development. Her son, Nicholas, is an example of the difference that early detection of developmental delays can make.

"Nicholas was 20 months old when he suddenly stopped talking and began to lose interest in things around him," explained Donna. Suspecting that something was wrong, she contacted his pediatrician who then referred her to a neurologist and a developmental pediatrician. After several visits to the doctors' offices, Nicky was diagnosed with autism. Read more...

Theresa Diaz, Campaign Champion

As a mother of two and former teacher, Theresa Diaz is familiar with children’s developmental milestones. Before her son was a year old, Theresa began to notice signs of developmental delay.

"I knew something was wrong with Merced. After the first 10 months, he lost language progression,"said Theresa. "Even though I suspected a problem, Merced was 2½-years-old before he was officially diagnosed with autism." Read more...

Barbara Tames , Campaign Champion
Special Education Teacher, Virginia Public Schools

"Identifying early warning signs is paramount for supporting children with developmental delays, and nothing is more important than children receiving early intervention," said Barbara Tames, a special education teacher of nearly 25 years.

Barbara sees the importance of early intervention every day in her work with children diagnosed with autism and other developmental delays; therefore, she strives to increase awareness of developmental milestones and early intervention throughout her community. Read more...

Barbara Becker-Cottrill, Ed. D., Executive Director, West Virginia Autism Training Center, Marshall University
As executive director of Marshall University’s West Virginia Autism Training Center, Dr. Barbara Becker-Cottrill has dedicated her professional life to children with autism. During her 15 years in this position, she and her team have worked to equip hundreds of families, educators, and other care providers with the training they need to help children with autism reach their full potential. Read more...

Kate Curry, Campaign Champion
Brenden is like many other 9-year-olds—he’s obsessed with sports, delights in antagonizing his little sister sometimes and enjoys being with his friends at school. Brenden is also very different—he worries constantly, has trouble putting words together and has not developed social skills like other kids his age. Brenden’s mom, Kate Curry, knew that he was special from a very young age. When Brenden was finally diagnosed with autism at age 6, she felt some relief that they could begin to get him the help and intervention he needed to succeed. Read more...

NYFAC Helps Raise Awareness for Moms
As president and CEO of New York Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC), Andrew Baumann speaks straight from the heart to parents who face each day with the challenges of having a child with a developmental disorder. Baumann’s 11-year-old son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3, so he knows from experience what parents are going through. That is why, when he learned about the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign, he knew NYFAC needed to get involved. Read more...

CARE Alliance Engages Local Communities
Connecticut Autism Research and Education Alliance (CARE Alliance) founder Margaret Jordan and her volunteers are helping to spread the word about the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." campaign to parents and professionals in Connecticut. Read the full story to find out about CARE's success. Read more...

One Person Can Make a Difference
Kim Hoffner had a feeling that her son, Colin, was not developing social and cognitive skills at the same rate as other children. His lack of language made this evident from the age of 15 months. At age 3, he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Find out how Kim became involved in "Learn the Signs. Act Early." and is making a difference. Read more...

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