Reassessing the approach of the Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign

A father holding his daughter at her doctor visit A father holding his daughter at her doctor visit

The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral PediatricsExternal has published a study that looked at the approach of the Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaignLearn the Signs. Act Early. encourages parents of young children to track their child’s developmental milestones and to act early if they have concerns about their child’s development.

The study findings support the campaign’s approach of educating parents about child development:

  • Most parents who had a child with a developmental delay or disability said they were the first to be concerned about their child’s development. They said that information on what to expect at different ages, such as the campaign’s milestone checklist, would have been helpful for them to have as they sought help.
  • Some parents who had a child with a disability recalled sharing concerns about their child’s development with a healthcare provider, but they were told by the provider to take a “wait and see” approach, and were not given information about developmental services and support.
  • Parents who had children without a developmental disability or delay reviewed Learn the Signs. Act Early. materials, understood their purpose, and found them appealing and useful.

This study provides important information for healthcare providers. Pediatricians and others who provide primary care for children can help by taking a central role in the early identification of developmental delays and disabilities and being responsive to parents’ concerns. Ideally, this would include

  • using developmental screening tools,
  • monitoring young children’s developmental milestones,
  • providing parents with tools to monitor their child’s development,
  • initiating conversations about child development, and
  • making referrals when needed.

Main Findings

Focus groups were conducted with parents of children who had developmental delays and disabilities to learn about their experiences in seeking initial help for their child. The study found that

  • Parents were typically the first ones to be concerned about their child’s development; delayed speech was the most commonly reported concern.
  • Most participants talked first with their child’s primary healthcare provider about their concerns.
  • When discussing concerns with a healthcare provider, two types of provider interactions occurred:
    • providers who were proactive about helping parents monitor child development and acted quickly to refer the child for early intervention services; and
    • providers who gave minimal or no assistance in monitoring child’s development, were more likely to take a “wait and see” approach, and did not provide information about where parents could find additional services and support.
  • Participants reported a few resources that would have been useful to them as they sought help for their child: information on what to expect at different ages and phone numbers of agencies to contact with questions.

In-depth interviews were conducted with parents who had young children without a developmental disability or delay to gather feedback on Learn the Signs. Act Early. materials. The study found that

  • Materials were appealing; most preferred the Milestone Moments Cdc-pdf[2 MB, 24 Pages, 508] booklet and milestone checklist.
  • Participants correctly understood that the purpose of the materials was to teach parents how to track their child’s developmental milestones and act early on concerns.
  • Participants preferred a clear and empowering message about the importance of acting early.
  • Participants wanted more information included in the materials about how to act early, why acting early is important, and whom to talk to with concerns.
  • Participants felt that pregnancy or shortly after birth were the optimal times for parents to receive Learn the Signs. Act Early. materials.

About this Study

  • Parents in urban areas in Colorado, New York, and North Carolina were recruited to participate.
  • The majority of participants in the study were black and/or Hispanic or Latino and had household incomes of less than $40,000 per year.
  • Discussions with about half of the participants were conducted in English, and the other half were in Spanish.
  • Partnerships with 14 early childhood and parent organizations facilitated participant recruitment.

CDC’s Activities: Learn the Signs. Act Early.

Learn the Signs. Act Early. aims to improve early identification of children with autism spectrum disorder  and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need as early as possible.

More Information

Learn more about developmental screening

Learn more about child development

Learn more about developmental disabilities

Learn about positive parenting tips