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West Valley City • You parents may have noted when your little one crawled and took a first step. But what about making eye contact, pointing to objects or copying what you do?
The Utah Department of Health wants parents to watch for such developmental milestones so children can get help earlier if they don't meet them.
With a $200,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the department launched a "Learn the Signs. Act Early" campaign Wednesday.
"It empowers parents to talk to their doctors about their child's development mainly the way they learn, play, speak and act," said Paul Carbone, a University of Utah pediatrician who specializes in caring for children with the developmental disorder autism.
The health department launched a website http://www.health.utah.gov/utahactearly that includes all the milestones children should reach by age 5. Parents are encouraged to talk to their doctors if they have concerns.
When it comes to worries about autism, doctors should have the child evaluated for hearing loss, diagnosed for the disorder and referred to the early intervention program Baby Watch, said Carbone, who is on a national American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) autism subcommittee.
But the campaign is about more than autism spectrum disorders. Missing milestones could also mean the child has another intellectual disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or trouble hearing or seeing.
The effort was launched at the U.'s Westridge Health Center in West Valley City, which last year committed to screening all children at ages 18 months and 24 months for autism a practice recommended for all pediatricians by the AAP. That's because children show signs of delay by that age, but they historically haven't been diagnosed until around age 4. That means they miss out on critical interventions that could help them develop more normally.
As part of the new campaign, all of the U.'s 10 community clinics will offer parents milestones checklists. And the health department will include them with birth certificates.
In addition, the health department will offer the checklists to child care providers and other clinics in neighborhoods targeted by the CDC grant: the southwest portion of Salt Lake County west of Interstate 15 and south of State Route 201 where there are more children. Health officials will also be knocking on doors in those areas to talk with parents directly.
The CDC wants to evaluate whether the campaign makes a difference in parents' awareness about the milestones and if they know what to do if they have concerns, said Al Romeo, the health department's campaign coordinator.
The federal government launched the Act Early campaign a couple of years ago and recently awarded money to four counties, including Salt Lake, to continue the efforts.
While there seems to be a drumbeat of information in the media about autism, Westridge pediatrician Mary Shapiro said many parents don't know the signs or that interventions are available.
"A lot of my families may not have finished school themselves," she said. "In certain communities, it's going to be extremely useful."
And while doctors may be screening for developmental disorders, parents need to know what to look for because they can pick up on subtle delays earlier, Romeo said.
Westridge parent Emily Smith had to be her son Nixon's best advocate when a pediatrician in another state wanted to wait and see if he caught up on developmental markers. Smith said that when she moved to Utah, she shared her concerns and Nixon enrolled in Baby Watch. He is now 6 and enrolled in an autism-specific charter school and can communicate, she said.
Her advice to other parents: "If you have concerns, question, question, question. If you don't get a satisfying answer ... find someone else. There's nothing wrong with that."
firstname.lastname@example.org Know the signs
To view the developmental milestones children should reach between birth to age 5, go to 1.usa.gov/rwlYX3 and click on "Resources."