(SALT LAKE CITY) – In Utah, one in every nine children has a special health care need, chronic health condition, or disability. In an effort to educate parents about childhood development, including early warning signs of autism and other developmental disabilities, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) today launched the Learn the Signs. Act Early (LTSAE) campaign at University of Utah Health Care’s (UUHC) Westridge Health Center.
As part of the campaign, a new UDOH website, www.health.utah.gov/utahactearly, will give parents tools to help them track developmental milestones in the fight to recognize and address early childhood delays.
“The site outlines all the milestones a child should achieve by each birthday,” said Al Romeo, RN, LTSAE program coordinator. “The site also tells parents what to do and where to go for help right away if they’re concerned about the way their child plays, learns, speaks, or acts.”
Early identification allows parents to seek help during the crucial period of a child’s early development. The sooner problems are identified, the better the chance children will get help and reach their full potential. Many conditions, such as hearing and vision impairments, autism, and intellectual disability, can be identified early by watching for children to reach milestones like talking, walking, pointing, and responding when parents call their name.
“We want parents to realize that although every child is different and develops at his or her own pace, there are still milestones each child should reach within a certain timeframe,” said Romeo. “We hope that this program will help parents identify delays and also encourage them to talk with their providers about their concerns.”
The UDOH will reach out to as many families as possible through community meetings, Internet advertising, and even Facebook and Twitter.
Some of the milestone tracking tools will be available from local partners, the UDOH Office of Vital Records and Statistics will include milestone lists with birth certificates, and U of U Health Care’s community clinics will be offering tools during well-child visits.
“Acting early to screen for developmental disabilities can lead to interventions that may help with or reverse those delays,” said Paul Carbone, M.D., U of U Health Care pediatrician. “Enrolling children in early intervention programs and taking advantage of proven therapies can help keep them from falling further behind as they start and progress through the school years.”
The U of U Health Care Department of Pediatrics, UDOH Bureau of Children with Special Health Care Needs, and Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities have been training primary care providers across the state to incorporate developmental and autism screening in well-child care for all their patients. The Westridge Health Center, with input from parents, implemented quality improvement processes to screen children for delays and refer them to local providers for additional testing and treatment.
The campaign is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Salt Lake County is one of only four locations in the country to receive a grant to launch the campaign. Other locations include St. Louis, MO, Anchorage, AK (and surrounding areas), and Yakima, WA (and surrounding areas). The cities in the southwest corner of Salt Lake County, from West Valley City to Herriman, have a higher number of young children than surrounding cities and are the focus of the campaign evaluation.
LTSAE began with a baseline telephone survey in September and will end with a follow-up survey in the summer of 2012. The CDC will incorporate the information gathered from the four launch areas before taking the campaign to other states.
For more information, visit www.health.utah.gov/utahactearly.