The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston‘s (UTHealth) Children’s Learning Institute recently launched Act Early Texas!, a new online portal that offers free developmental screening tools and training resources on autism. The resource, which is initially designed to help parents and early childhood professionals located in Cameron, Willacy and Hidalgo counties, is available in both English and Spanish and could offer a promising, new model for empowering parents and physicians to detect autism and developmental issues early in childhood development.
The portal provides two validated developmental screening tools that can be quickly and easily used by parents in their homes or at early childhood facilities. The tool can also be utilized by teachers or program administrators after receiving parents’ authorization. The two free access methods are the Ages & Stages Questionnaire-3™ (ASQ-3™), which screens general development, and the revised autism-specific screening tool Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers™ (M-CHAT-R/F™).
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder,” explained the director of Act Early Texas! and The Autism Center at the Children’s Learning Institute, Pauline A. Filipek, MD. “The data shows that early identification, leading to early intervention, can make a significant difference in the life of a young child with a developmental delay or disorder. Act Early Texas! provides parents and early childhood professionals with information designed to answer the question, ‘Is this child’s development like other children of the same age?’”
After conducting preliminary tests, if results indicate a possible issue, the web portal offers referrals for parents to access local resources and sends copies of the outcomes automatically to the chosen pediatrician. In addition, parents can also print the documentation, as noted by the Children’s Learning Institute in a press release.
“Screening does not give a diagnosis, but identifies areas in which a child’s development differs from same-age peers,” added Filipek. “Through Act Early Texas!, we provide free access to an online tool to empower parents to learn about their children’s development and support professional development for child care providers who care for and educate millions of young Texans every day.”
Act Early Texas! also has four online modules particularly designed for early childhood professionals, offering training about the important role of developmental screening and early social emotional development, as well as how to perform developmental screenings and talk to parents about testing outcomes.
The new online resource was developed with financial support from the Texas Early Learning Council and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, while the Children’s Learning Institute is currently establishing several partnerships with community organizations in the Rio Grande Valley to spread the word about Act Early Texas! among parents and early childhood professionals.
The website www.actearlytexas.org is currently available in Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy Counties, which include Easter Seals, United Way of Southern Cameron County, Workforce Solutions Cameron and Healthy Brownsville. However, the Children’s Learning Institute is planning on extending access to Dallas, Cherokee and Gregg Counties later this year.