Early Screening is Vital to Children and their Families


The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York, offers an inclusive early learning program.

How a child plays, learns, speaks, moves, and behaves all offer important clues about a child’s development. A delay in any of these developmental milestones could be a sign of developmental challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Early intervention services, like those services that help a child learn to speak, walk, or interact with others, can really make a difference and enhance a child’s learning and development. Unfortunately, too many young children do not have access to the early screening that can help detect developmental delays.

Additionally, the CDC states that an estimated one in every 68 children in the United States has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Unfortunately, most children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age four, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age two or younger.

While it is imperative that all young children have access to screening and appropriate services, research highlights the need to ensure developmental screening in low-income, racially diverse urban populations, where the risk of delay is greater and access to services can be more difficult. Studies found that by 24 months of age, black children were almost five times less likely than white children to receive early intervention services, and that a lack of receipt of services appeared more consistently among black children who qualified based on developmental delay alone compared to children with a diagnosed condition. The research suggests that children of color are disproportionately underrepresented in early intervention services and less likely than white children to be diagnosed with developmental delays.

Statistics such as these can help us raise the awareness about the importance of early screening. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children receive developmental screenings with a standardized developmental screening tool at 9, 18, and either 24 or 30 months of age. Children who are screened and identified as having, or at risk for, a developmental delay can be referred to their local early intervention service program (if they are under 3 years of age), or their local public school (if they are 3 years of age or older), for additional evaluation to determine whether they are eligible for IDEA Part C or Part B 619 services. Further, screening young children early may help families to better access other federal and State-funded early learning and development services, such as home visiting, Early Head Start, Head Start, preschool, and child care.

Last month, I was pleased to announce that the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services worked together to launch Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! This initiative encourages early developmental and behavioral screening and follow-up with support for children and families by providing a compendium of research-based screening tools and “how to” guides for a variety of audiences, including parents, doctors, teachers, and child care providers. Research shows that early identification can lead to greater access to supports and services, helping children develop and learn.

I’ve seen first-hand how States and local providers are working to ensure that some of our most at risk children get the supports and services they need…early. I’ve met with providers of early childhood services from Las Cruces, New Mexico to East Boston, Massachusetts. The Unity Sunshine Program of Unity House of Troy in Troy, New York offers a fully integrated and inclusive early learning setting for young children with disabilities to learn alongside their typically developing peers. I’ve also learned how critical it is for States and local providers to engage, support, and empower families of young children with disabilities.

Early screening and identification are critically important steps towards giving young children with disabilities a strong start in life. Check out Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! and learn how you can support some of our most vulnerable children and their families.

Michael Yudin is Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education



  1. My favorite part about this initiative is the “celebration” of babies meeting developmental milestones. Making it into a celebration is a positive way of educating parents about the development of their baby and potentially getting the right recoursed for them if needed.

  2. As a mother of preemie twins, my children were anticipated to possibly have special needs and were referred to the appropriate doctors from birth. As a mother of special needs children I now fall into the category of low-income families due to giving up my job to care for my children. I believe if there was a standardized questionnaire presented at any place that takes care of infants and small children e.g. all doctors who see children, clinics, hospital emergency rooms, and schools; it would greatly reduce the number of children falling through the cracks. I feel most parents do not see the signs of needing help unless the signs are significant. I feel it has more to do with education of families, medical practices, and schools to bring to light the children who are at risk or are in need of Special Education Service. Secondly, the funds needs to be available to take care of our children. Thirdly, the plan needs to be followed and well executed. Lastly, Special Education Teachers and staff…ROCK!!!

  3. Birth to Five should include screening for learning disabilities, the largest sector of students with disabilities. Early screening can identify warning signs and target early interventions to lesson the educational impact that plague these students. 1in five students have a learning disability, this huge number has a massive impact on school budgets, special education and the longer we wait to address Learning Disabilities the harder and more costly they are to get control of. The sheer numbers alone should have included this group aggressively in the birth to five initiative. Why they are not included is unimaginable. Milestone that these students miss should be red flags that every pediatrician and early education provider should be alert and aware of and ready to provide resources to help parents. If identified early and targeted with appropriate strategies kids with Learning Disabilities, the largest being Dyslexia, have the opportunity to beat the bleak odds that plague this massive group of kids in special education.

  4. Mr. Yudin we desperately need to educate more people about the signs of fetal alcohol exposure and ensure they are screening for this as one of the issues requiring early intervention. Almost all money spend on the issue of FASD is aimed at prevention – which is certainly a worthwhile endover. However, as long as alcohol is legal and as many as 60% of the pregnancies in the USA are unplanned we will have children born exposed. We must address the needs of these children early if they are to have any chance at a successful life outcome.

  5. In New York State all but a couple of BOCES have had to close their birth-3 and preschool programs due to lack of state funding!!! If this initiative is so vital why aren’t the states budgeting the resources to provide services to our youngest children with special needs?

  6. Mr. Yudin, it seems to me that you should be running the joint. Early screening is exactly what we need to help kids succeed. As a 57 year sufferer of ADHD, I will never recover from the trauma inflicted by our education system. I was lazy, stupid, and crazy. Now we know better, so we need to do better. I couldn’t agree more, the sooner we give support, the better. Amen.

    • Now we know better, so we need to do better. I couldn’t agree more, the sooner we give support, the better.

      Agree with Marita here, so much better if we could running the joint.

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