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Study to Explore Early Development (SEED)

Photo: Child playing with blocks at tableResearchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Centers for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) published a scientific paper describing the methods of the Study to Explore Early Development, or SEED. [Click here to read a summary of the article]

What Is SEED?

SEED is currently the largest study in the United States to help identify factors that might put children at risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). SEED is being conducted in diverse communities across the country. There are sites in California, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. So far, SEED has enrolled more than 3,700 children and more than 2,200 children and their parents have completed the study.

SEED’s main research goals are to compare young children (2 through 5 years of age) who have ASDs, children who have developmental problems other than ASDs, and children without a developmental disability from the general population to better understand characteristics of ASDs and genetic and environmental factors that might affect child development. In SEED, the environmental factors we study are very broad and include characteristics of the pregnancy, birth and newborn period, and the first few years of life to see what might affect a child’s risk for an ASD. A key strength of SEED is its ability to look at detailed information on the characteristics of ASDs and environmental and genetic factors at the same time to see how they all interact.

Many young children with characteristics of ASDs do not yet have a diagnosis or receive ASD-specific services. SEED has enrolled and is continuing to enroll children with a broad range of autism characteristics, with or without a diagnosis. About 18% of the children in SEED who met our study definition of ASDs did not have a clinical diagnosis of ASD. Including these children in our sample will allow researchers to understand the diverse risk factors for different types of ASDs. This finding also highlights the need for early identification of children with ASDs.

What Is Next for SEED?

SEED researchers have started to analyze initial results from the study. The first few analyses are focusing on describing behaviors, developmental skills, medical issues, psychiatric issues, pregnancy factors, demographic factors (age, race and ethnicity, sex, place of birth and residence), and genes.

CADDRE is about to start a second round of SEED data collection and will be inviting more families to take part in the study.

Thank You!

We are so grateful to the thousands of families who have participated in SEED and the community and advocacy organizations that have partnered with SEED to make this important research possible.

Learn More

Autism Spectrum Disorders: Additional CDC Activities
At CDC, we are working together with our partners to address the growing needs of thousands of families affected by ASD and to understand the rising prevalence of these disorders.

  • Monitoring Autism. The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network produces autism prevalence reports that help us understand the number and characteristics of children with ASDs living in several U.S. communities. While many studies on autism focus on small groups of individuals, the ADDM Network monitors these conditions among thousands of children from diverse communities across the country. This ongoing, population-based approach allows the ADDM Network to monitor changes in the prevalence of autism and characteristics of children with these conditions, such as the average age of diagnosis and disparities in identification. These data can help communities to direct their outreach efforts to those who need it most.
    Learn more about the ADDM Network »
  • Educating Parents and Health Care Providers. CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. program is having an effect on the lives of families now by helping parents and providers recognize the early warning signs of ASD and other developmental delays and by promoting early screening, evaluation, and treatment, when needed.
    Learn more about the Learn the Signs. Act Early. program »

Schendel DE, Diguiseppi C, Croen LA, Fallin MD, Reed PL, Schieve LA, et al.
The Study to Explore Early Development (SEED): A Multisite Epidemiologic Study of Autism by the Centers for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) Network. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Feb 2012. [Epub ahead of print]

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