The statistics on the prevalence of autism sometimes seem like a timer ticking down to zero. When I got into the field of disabilities 13 years ago, the suggested prevalence was 1 in 150 children. Then we ticked down to 1 in 100. In 2012, it was 1 in 88. The latest word from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder. That comes out to about 1.2 million children younger than 21.
This announcement prompted the latest health initiative from the Obama administration, Birth to Five: Watch me Thrive! This coordinated federal effort focuses on ensuring universal developmental and behavioral screening for all children younger than 5.
Developmental and behavioral screenings can help identify children who are experiencing delays in social, motor, speech and cognitive development. When the screenings identify concerns, children can be evaluated and receive intervention services. The earlier these services begin, the more effective they are in boosting the child’s rate of development.
Colorado has led the way for the feds with its Assuring Better Child Health and Development program, aiming at increasing children’s access to developmental screenings, particularly through their well-child visits. In La Plata County, these efforts have been particularly successful. Our two main pediatricians’ offices, Pediatric Partners of the Southwest and Pediatric Associates of Durango, have been providing developmental screenings for young children for several years.
Additionally, the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County is working on an initiative to further increase the screening of young children and services for social and emotional delays. The ECC is working with representatives from ABCD to develop a community “map”: a coordinated system of screening, referral and intervention for young children with developmental delays.
The community map will help improve consistency between current screening entities, like the pediatricians, the local Head Start agencies and the La Plata Family Centers Coalition. It will also suggest next steps for screeners and families, whether the results of the screening show the child is reaching developmental milestones, is showing potential delays or is somewhere in between. The ECC has also arranged training for other early childhood professionals to become proficient in administering developmental screening tools to provide more opportunities for children to participate in screening.
With up to 1 in 4 children younger than 5 at risk for delays in development, screening is most certainly a community effort. If you believe your child or a child you know is at risk for developmental delays, you can talk to your child’s physician and ask if a developmental screening had been done.
Free developmental screenings are also available at the La Plata Family Centers Coalition by appointment at 385-4747.
For children who have identified delays in development, early intervention services are available in Colorado at no cost to families. For questions about early intervention services, you can contact Community Connections at 385-3498 or 565-8389.
Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.