Dawn Mangine

    The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is funding a multi-year study to help identify factors that may put children at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) is the largest study about ASD in the United States. The goal is to understand risk factors in order to learn more about what causes ASD.

    Three Main Areas

    Autism Spectrum Disorder is varied and complex. SEED is studying three main areas.

    • Physical and behavioral characteristics of children with ASD; children with other developmental disabilities; and children without developmental delays or disabilities. The CDC would like to determine more about why people with ASD are the way they are, especially in comparison to children with other developmental delays and children who are neurotypical.
    • Health conditions of children with and without ASD. They want to learn more about health conditions or disorders that affect people with ASD at higher rates than other populations, such as sleeping or eating patterns.
    • Factors associated with a child’s risk for developing ASDs. Finally, the CDC is hoping SEED will provide insights into possible risk factors for developing ASD, and if they can be mitigated.

    For more information about SEED, see the FAQs section here.

    Tools for Healthcare Education

    The CDC is also invested in educating primary healthcare providers gain knowledge and skills to improve early identification of children with ASD. About one in 59 children is diagnosed with ASD, and early diagnosis and intervention can lead to better outcomes for children and their families.

    The Autism Case Training (ACT) is a free web-based continuing education course, with three modules to help primary healthcare providers:

    • Identify autism spectrum disorder
    • Assist a family through the diagnostic process
    • Care for patients with ASD

    ACT also has in-class curriculum content for healthcare educators.



    Several screening and diagnostic tools exist to help healthcare professionals identify children with developmental delays and diagnose the cause of the delays. Educators should go through the tools with their students, especially students who will be involved in pediatric care.

    Screening tools can be specific to a disorder or to an area (for example, language development), or they can be more general. They are not meant to provide conclusive evidence of developmental delays. A positive result on a screening tool or test should be followed by a thorough assessment to find a diagnosis.

    In the realm of ASD, although many assessment tools are available, no single tool should be used for a diagnosis. Diagnostic tools rely on two sources of informational: parent or caregiver description of the child’s development and a professional’s observation of the child’s behavior.

    Myths about Developmental Screening

    Myth: No adequate screening tools for preschoolers exist

    Fact: While this may have been the case at one time, now many types of sound screening measures exist.

    Myth: The education to administer screening correctly is laborious.

    Fact: Most requirements are not extensive for most screening tools, and many can be administered by paraprofesionals.

    Myth: Screening takes up a lot of time.

    Fact: Most screening takes less than 15 minutes to administer, and a few require only about two minutes of a healthcare professional’s time.

    Myth: Tools that incorporate information from parents are not valid.

    Fact: Research has shown that parents’ concerns are usually valid – parental concerns detect 70 to 80 percent of children with disabilities. (Source)

    The number of people with autism will continue to grow, and the education for healthcare professionals – current and future – should be ongoing to help address the health care of this population. For more, see the CDC ASD Homepage.