With one in 59 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research buttresses the fact that early identification and family support have long-term, positive benefits for children.
Now parents in South Florida have a new resource to help them screen toddlers from 12 to 24 months old, for developmental delays and may also be eligible to participate in a national research program aimed at closing the gap between early identification of ASD and access to early intervention programs.
“With small children, pediatricians and parents often take a wait and see approach,” says Dr. Michael Alessandri executive director of the University of Miami – Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). “But what ends up happening is that some kids fall through the cracks. They are either misdiagnosed or diagnosed later, which research shows often results in longer and more intensive intervention. But that’s not necessary, because we have the researched-backed tools that allow us to screen for early signs of ASD.”
Funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and developed by UM-NSU CARD along with Florida State University, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts Boston, UM-NSU CARD has launched the ACTION Network program to close this gap.
The ACTION Network, which stands for Autism Adaptive Community-based Treatment to Improve Outcomes using Navigators – provides parents with the coaching and skills they need to support their child’s development. Once enrolled in the research program, specially trained family navigators meet with parents in their home, up to two times per week for six months, to learn new ways to help their child develop social interaction, language and play skills, and manage challenging behavior. These home-based parent-coaching style interventions are tailored to daily activities, routines, and problem solving on issues important to the individual family. The program is offered in English, Spanish and Creole in the tri-county area at no charge.
“We don’t have to wait until children enter school or are sidelined in their development to give them the help they need,” Alessandri added. Families and health care providers can access the free initial screening tool for communication delays online at the My First Words Project website, https://my.firstwordsproject.com/study/ace-action-miami.
“We are excited to be able to offer this tool and assistance to families and physicians, which will allow many more families to access much-needed evidence-based early interventions and related resources,” says Alessandri.
To learn more visit parents and doctors can also contact the research program directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (305) 284-6894.