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MU Partners with WIC Clinics to Identify Developmental Delays in Kids

November 3rd, 2011

Story Contact: Emily Martin, (573) 882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – An estimated one in 110 American children has an autism spectrum disorder; yet, many children from low income and minority groups are not identified until after kindergarten or later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A partnership between the University of Missouri Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is helping to increase early identification and treatment of children with autism and developmental delays who otherwise might lack timely access to care.

The goal of the project is to increase awareness of the indicators of healthy child development among families in St. Louis City who participate in WIC, a nutrition program that serves low-income pregnant women and mothers with children between the ages of birth and four years. Thompson Center staff members work with WIC providers to integrate information from CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early” (LTSAE) campaign with current services that families receive. When families are certified for WIC, staff members review age-specific developmental milestone checklists with parents and encourage them to share the lists with their children’s primary care providers. 

“Partnering with WIC allows us to work together for the same goals to promote the healthy development of young families,” said Lee Falk, project coordinator for the Thompson Center. “When we talk one-on-one with families about their children’s milestones it takes some of the apprehension and fear out of addressing developmental disabilities in children. Families know and trust their local WIC staff, so this information is given and received in a very positive, non-threatening manner.”

Engaging, family-friendly signage at nine St. Louis City WIC sites reinforces key messages of the campaign: learn the signs of early childhood development; act early if there is concern; talk to your doctor. The graphics and handouts prompt families to track social and emotional milestones as they take measurements for physical development, such as height and weight.

Initial responses from families have been positive, says Janet Farmer, principal investigator on the project and director of academic programs at the Thompson Center. Benefits to families include:

  • Greater Awareness – Materials encourage parents to watch for specific actions, such as eye contact and voice responsiveness, to gauge child development starting at two months of age.
  • Earlier screenings – Increased awareness leads to regular developmental screenings, making it possible to identify any concerns quickly.
  • Earlier services – Early treatment is important because research shows that the earlier children are treated for developmental disabilities, the better their chances for improvement.

Benefits to health care providers include:

  • Conversation starters – Parents complete developmental milestone checklists that providers can use to start conversations about potential developmental concerns.
  • Access to resources – The project provides access to information on screening tools and referral resources for diagnostic evaluations and intervention services.

The project is funded through a grant from the federal Maternal & Child Health Bureau, in collaboration with the CDC. The Thompson Center is one of four organizations nationwide selected for this two-year project. For more information, visit: