Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Raising Awareness about Developmental and Behavioral Screening

October 10, 2014
Jennifer Johnson, Deputy Commissioner, Administration on Disabilities

"How is my child doing?": parents and other caregivers often ask themselves. Several federal projects are underway to support parents and professionals who work with young children in answering this universal question.

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education have launched a developmental and behavioral screening effort called Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! This initiative builds on previous federal developmental and behavioral screening efforts by identifying a list of research-based developmental screening tools appropriate for use across a wide range of settings—such as homes, doctor’s offices, and preschools. In addition to screening tools, the site also offers resources for parents, childcare providers, teachers and others who interact with children daily.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children receive routine developmental and behavioral screenings as part of well-child visits, screening efforts have been shown to vary greatly in practice. Further, there is no system for tracking what happens after a child is screened. Developmental delays affect 10 to 13 percent of U.S. children under the age of 3, but only 2 to 3 percent of children in this age group receive Early Intervention services. As these numbers show, it is more important than ever for all who interact with children to know and watch for the signs of developmental delay, and take action early.

In April, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that an estimated 1 in 68 children in the United States have Autism Spectrum Disorder. We also know more about the positive effects of early intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Yet the average age of children diagnosed with Autism is 4 years of age even though screening can make such a finding as early as age 2. This means that children are missing out on critical early intervention opportunities.

Partnering with Parents

We know young children should be screened often and early, but we also know there are many missed opportunities. It takes a team effort to make sure every child is screened and has appropriate follow-up. Parents and families are at the center of this team effort. Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! recognizes the importance of parent and family involvement in the screening process. Resources for various providers are available to assist with educating parents and families and supporting their participation in the screening process. A developmental and behavioral screening passport, similar to an immunization card, is a tool to help parents keep track of their children's screening records. By working together, we can reach young children early and often so that all children have the opportunities and support they need to thrive.


The Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD), part of ACL, supports several national efforts that provide information and resources for multiple audiences. AIDD funds the national network of 68 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs). UCEDDs are key partners in the Center for Disease Control’s Learn the Signs. Act Early campaign, which also aims to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need. From 2008 through 2010, UCEDDs participated in 11 Act Early Regional Summits to:

  • Initiate and build on relationships among key stakeholders.

  • Serve as a catalyst for the formation of Act Early teams.

  • Foster the development of individual state/territory plans that improve early identification and referral.

Several UCEDD staff are Act Early Ambassadors working to expand the reach of the "Learn the Signs. Act Early." program and support their respective state’s work toward improving early identification. Many UCEDDs across the nation provide early childhood assessment services for individuals. To learn more, visit the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, or search the National Information Reporting System for UCEDD activities in the area of early childhood.

Another information resource is the Autism NOW website which provides a dynamic and interactive, highly visible, and effective central point of quality resources and information for members of the autism community. Funded by AIDD through a grant, Autism NOW is the National Autism Resource and Information Center, a national initiative of The Arc of the United States. The initiative seeks to empower stakeholders by providing evidence-based, accessible resources. 

Last modified on 06/27/2023

Back to Top