Autism Spectrum Disorders: Learn the Signs. Act Early.

Georgina Peacock, MD, MPH


July 21, 2014

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

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Hello. I'm Dr. Georgina Peacock, a developmental pediatrician at CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. I will be speaking with you about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the importance of identifying developmental delays or concerns among children as early as possible so that helpful intervention can begin. I will also share some key resources, available on CDC's Website, to aid in early identification.

CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children in communities across the United States have been identified with ASD. Early intervention for children with suspected delays and disabilities such as ASD is critical. The earlier we can start teaching a young child, the better the chances for a child to build important skills in how he or she learns, plays, speaks, acts, and moves.

Most children with ASD are not diagnosed until after age 4, even though ASD can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. CDC's "Learn the Signs. Act Early." program has resources to help you learn about providing developmental monitoring, sometimes called developmental surveillance, for all young children. It's important that all healthcare providers working with young children are knowledgeable about how development typically proceeds and what signs may indicate ASD. Parents have questions and concerns about ASD, and CDC wants you to be prepared. To help meet this need, we have developed the free, Web-based Autism Case Training Continuing Education Course. Modules cover such topics as identification, diagnosis, and management of ASD. Upon completion, you will receive continuing education credits. 

Healthcare providers play a vital role in helping parents monitor early child development and ensuring that children are identified and referred for services as soon as possible so that they can get the help they need. Parents look to you for help when they have concerns about their child's development. "Learn the Signs. Act Early." has such tools as the Milestone Checklists, that you and the families you serve can use to track child development. Checklists can be given to families at every well-child visit. These materials may give parents the confidence in their observations of their child's behavior, leading to the likelihood of following up with you when concerns arise.

Both monitoring and routine screening are important parts of pediatric care. The American Academy of Pediatrics[1] recommends general developmental screening, using a validated screening tool, at the 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month well-child visits. ASD-specific screening is recommended at 18 and 24 months.

Developmental monitoring and screening helps you identify delays and risk for such disabilities as ASD as early as possible. If you or a child's parents have developmental concerns, then you can encourage them to call their local early intervention provider or local elementary school to request a detailed developmental evaluation that may qualify a child for services. The child may also be referred to a specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, child neurologist, or child psychologist for a more in-depth clinical evaluation that may lead to a specific diagnosis of ASD or other condition.

To access materials, go to Learn the Signs. Act Early. Thank you for all you do to help parents "learn the signs and act early."

Web Resources

CDC: Learn the Signs. Act Early. Free materials

CDC: Autism Case Training Continuing Education Course

CDC: Milestone Checklists

Contact information for each state's Early Intervention program

Georgina Peacock, MD, MPH, is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician with the Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Peacock promotes children's health and development. She is recognized as a developmental disabilities expert and continues to see patients in a developmental clinic at the Good Samaritan Health Center.

Dr. Peacock publishes and presents nationally about the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." program and promotes awareness of developmental milestones and autism among parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals. She also addresses specific public health issues in children, including those with special healthcare needs. In 2009, she co-led CDC's Children's Health Desk for the H1N1 influenza response and has published multiple articles about its effects on children with chronic medical conditions. She currently promotes flu prevention and early treatment for children with neurologic conditions, who are at a higher risk for death and hospitalization from the flu. Dr. Peacock also helps guide CDC's emergency preparedness and response planning for children.

Dr. Peacock received her doctor of medicine and master of public health degrees from the University of Kansas. She is also a former Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental & Related Disabilities (LEND) trainee who completed her developmental-behavioral pediatrics fellowship at the Developmental Disabilities Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She initially joined CDC as an Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) fellow.