Autism - New Early Identification and Intervention Program for Children with Autism

Media Contact: Susan Simpson
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Phone: (405) 271-2323

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June 2, 2010 - With autism being reported at higher rates than ever before, specialists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center have launched a pilot project to aid in the early identification of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and to provide intensive intervention for these toddlers.

Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now show one in every 110 children have been diagnosed with an ASD. The Autism Workforce Initiative is Oklahoma’s response to the growing needs of these children, their families, and the pediatricians who provide their health care.

The initiative features a number of important components, including a physician training program and an intensive early intervention program for young children suspected of having an ASD.

View the Media Briefing

The intervention and outreach component of the initiative is called Early Foundations. It provides a model for delivering intensive intervention as soon as possible for children suspected of having an ASD. It does this in a developmentally appropriate setting that includes access to typical peers and typical childhood activities. Children enrolled in the program receive:

  • Highly supportive teaching using behavior and analytic techniques (9 hours/week)
  • Play group with typically developing peers (6 hours/week)
  • Home and community support for child and family (2 hours/week)
  • Monthly parent education nights
  • Family-provided intervention on family-chosen goals (5 hours/week)

“We know that half of children identified with a possible ASD respond significantly to early intervention. This program expands and intensifies that intervention from two to four hours per month to 17 hours per week. That is a substantial increase in the help these children and their families receive,” said Bonnie McBride, PhD, Principal Investigator of the Early Foundations Project, Department of Pediatrics, OUHSC.


Services are provided through Oklahoma's Early Intervention system and the model site in Oklahoma City is funded using federal dollars through the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

In addition to developing an effective intervention model through its pilot site in Oklahoma City, the project is intended to provide outreach support to other communities statewide, assisting them in adopting components of the Early Foundations model. There are already two replication projects underway - one in Cleveland County and another in Canadian County.

“We believe this project can greatly enhance the lives of children with autism by giving them and their families important tools and support,” McBride added.

With recent legislative support in Oklahoma, the Autism Workforce Initiative was expanded to include a physician training component. START-ED (short for Screening Tools and Referral Training – Evaluation and Diagnosis), a program originally developed at Vanderbilt, provides specialized training for pediatricians across Oklahoma to boost their skills in evaluating and diagnosing children with ASDs.

“Pediatricians across the state are grappling with what to do as more and more families request help in answering the question, ‘Does my child have autism?’ We know that waiting for a diagnosis can significantly delay the start of early intervention services which can be crucial for optimizing outcomes for these children and their families. This project allows us to reach out to pediatricians statewide, helping better train them to look for those earliest warning signs of autism spectrum disorders in their young patients,” said Laura McGuinn, M.D., START-ED project director, Department of Pediatrics, OU Health Sciences Center.

Oklahoma's START-ED program includes a day and a half of intensive physician training on how to perform a new hour-long diagnostic visit, as well as support for implementation in the doctor's office after the training.

The Oklahoma Autism Workforce Initiative is a collaborative effort of the Child Study Center of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the State Department of Education, the State Health Department and the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.


In Attendance

Bonnie McBride, PhD
Principal Investigator, Early Foundations
Department of Pediatrics, OU Health Sciences Center

Laura McGuinn, MD
Project Director, Oklahoma START-ED
Department of Pediatrics, OU Health Sciences Center

Jennifer & Steve Davis
Parents of Blaine

Kathleen Combs, MD
Yukon, Oklahoma



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