First Connections: Training and Technical Assistance to Support Community Agencies in Underserved Communities to Conduct Developmental Screening and Linkage for Young Children (CA UCEDD/LEND)

March 30, 2015

By Marian E. Williams, PhD, Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, USC UCEDD/CA-LEND

Although autism spectrum disorders can be reliably diagnosed by age 2 (Lord et al., 2006) and early intervention has been demonstrated to improve outcomes, most children are not identified until age 4. Despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, most physicians do not conduct standardized developmental or autism screenings. Disparities in early detection of autism in ethnic minority groups, particularly Latino and African American children, and children living in poverty, lead to many children from disadvantaged backgrounds missing the opportunity for early treatment (Mandell et al, 2009). Further, when children are identified as needing early intervention services, poor and ethnic minority children in Los Angeles County have been found to receive fewer services than white and higher income children (Zarembo, 2011).

The University of Southern California UCEDD was awarded a Training and Technical Assistance 3 year grant, funded by First 5 Los Angeles, to work with six community based agencies to develop replicable and sustainable models for standardizing screening for autism and other developmental disabilities for young children in underserved communities, linking families with early intervention services, and educating parents about developmental milestones and the early intervention service system. The six community based agencies include three Federally Qualified Health Centers serving children with Medicaid, one Family Resource Center, and two social service agencies for young children.

In addition to providing screening and linkage services, the project has provided opportunities for training and research. California LEND trainees are conducting leadership projects connected to the grant, which are focused on research about medical provider views regarding developmental screening, and continuing education regarding helping early education providers to support parents through the preschool IEP process. The project is also providing data for a research study examining the process of identification and linkage for mental health challenges using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ): Social Emotional and its utility when administered in addition to the ASQ-3.

Lord, C., Risi, S. et al. (2006). Autism from 2 to 9 years of age. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63, 694-701.

Mandell, D. S., Wiggins, L. D. et al. (2009). Racial/ethnic disparities in the identification of children with autism spectrum disorders. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 493-498.

Zarembo, A. Warrior parents fare best in securing autism services. Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2011.